We are very familiar with the slew of prodigiously gifted Chinese pianists (and other instrumentalists) who have become renowned all over the world for their interpretation of classical music. However, the pianist Dongfeng Liu is a rarity not only for his extraordinary pianism but for following the pursuit of the music of Jazz and Latin-Jazz. But the questing, peripatetic culture of the Chinese does go back to the great traveller Hsüan-tsang (c. 602–664 AD) and probably earlier. Put that together with Marco Polo (1254–1324), who brought China and Europe even closer and the voyages of Columbus and suddenly the Caribbean and all of its African influences is no longer that far off, certainly not for someone as musically and historically savvy as Dongfeng Liu.
The fact that Jazz was heard and even briefly flourished in China as early as in the 1920’s with the highly inspirational music of Li Jinhui (1891–1967), often dubbed as the “Father of Chinese popular music”, creating a new musical form with shidaiqu after the fall of the Qing Dynasty should might come as quite a surprise. After all Mao Zedong and (later) Jiang Qing together with the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution Leap Forward may have stamped out Jazz branded as “Yellow Music”, a form of pornography, because of its sexual associations and he was branded a “corruptor” of public morals, and even hounded Li to his death, a victim of political persecution in 1967.
However, the China of today is a different kind of behemoth and it is hardly surprising to find voices (inside and outside that country) who favour the African-American idiom and who flavor their music with Jazz and Latin Jazz. Moreover, there is a substantial Sino-Caribbean population in and around Cuba. But Dongfeng Liu is a rare and gleaming gem. He certainly is a pianist as masterful a virtuoso on the instrument as he is playing in the style of Jazz and Latin Jazz. Best of all he is a sublime creator of a musical style that is forged in the fire of all of the metaphors – Chinese, Jazz and Latin Jazz – and China Caribe is an outstanding example of what happens when Dongfeng Liu and his phenomenal gifts as a composer and pianist collide with music.
The disc unveils his music consequently heralding the start of an impending and glittering music career. It also showcases the inventive composer in the fine company of the brilliant ruan and pipa player Min Xiaofen, the erhu virtuoso Feifei Yang and – best of all – the Hanggai Band who bring their mastery of Tuvan throat singing, or Hooliin Chor (in Mongolian, “throat harmony”) on the spectacular work “In the Clouds”. Indeed these extraordinarily-scored works bridge the stylistic gap between Chinese and Latin Jazz music melding each of the forms with Caribbean grace and architecture and Chinese fireworks. Dongfeng Liu’s rhythmic writing is also effortlessly idiomatic; songful melodies and languid reflections give way to rippling, sinuous, percussive grooves and spirited dances. In all of this Dongfeng Liu leads this powerful group with terrific flair and abandon.
The pianist’s rigorous technique makes light weight of the complex rhythms and harmonies and Dongfeng Liu’s virtuosic performance, with its quick-fire flourishes, intricate high-wire figurations and tricky passages is breathtakingly matched by bassist John Benitez, percussionist Roberto Quintero and drummer Francis Benitez. There are many moments of eloquent dialogue between pianist and the other members of the group, the finest coming during the hectic exchanges between pianist and the percussionists. The ensemble is taut and the generous acoustic adds warmth to this performance made more memorable by such works as “Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon” and “Arcadia”.
Track list – 1: In the Clouds; 2: Mirror Image; 3: Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon; 4: I Know You; 5: Arcadia; 6: Coltrane’s Tune; 7: Fisherman’s Song at Dusk; 8: Moophy
Personnel – Dongfeng Liu: piano; John Benitez: electric bass and contrabass; Roberto Quintero: percussion (1 – 5, 7); Francis Benitez: drums; Min Xiaofen: ruan (1) and pipa (3, 5); Feifei Yang: erhu (7); Special Guests – Hanggai Band: Mongolian horsehead fiddle and Mongolian throat singing (1)
Released – 2018
Label – ZOHO Music (ZM 201805)
Runtime – 57:48
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.
By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.
The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.
Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.
From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.
Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.
It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.
Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz
Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring – Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums 
Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25
YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)
YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues
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