Featured Album *****
The relatively small, yet deeply rewarding output of the Afro Bop Alliance Big Band is skillfully wrought, thoroughly idiomatic, inventive and communicative on every level and it is not surprising that each album finds favour with audiences and students of big band music. Moreover the music’s variety of mood, conception and sheer exuberance is a moving feast for the inner ear. Revelation, like all its predecessors, is ravishing kaleidoscope of music with crashing contrasts of volume and dynamics (the percussion-heavy scoring is enhanced here by the glorious beauty of a quartet of steel pans). Revelation is worth every penny one would pay for it.
The recording begins with ‘CuBop’, an apocalyptic shout and show-opener that calls for setting the musical bar very high indeed. Fortunately all of the musicians involved are seasoned, technically commanding and musically insightful virtuosos who go well beyond merely playing the notes. From here onwards it’s all a series of dramatic musical peaks and no troughs of course. Musicians capture both the music’s extemporaneous sensibility and sudden theatrical crests. Each performer is clearly heard giving it his and her all – thanks, in no small way, to gorgeously spacious and clean engineering by Bob Dawson. Of course, here is leadership of the very highest order by drummer Joe McCarthy as well as conductor (on three tracks) Roland Vázquez. All of their efforts would come to naught were it not for individual performances – both solo and ensemble – of tremendous style and authority.
It is surely a well-known fact that Victor Provost has added a wonderful dimension to this big band. His two strategically-placed compositions, namely ‘Magharibi’ and ‘Soufriere’, display his mature writing style and how this is energetically intertwined into the repertoire of the ensemble. Provost’s extraordinary colouristic palette particularly comes alive in ‘Magharibi’ where the quartet of pans create tones and textures that are meticulously gauged and balanced not just for the individual players but also for the entire band.
The album comprises of five other compositions. Each is arranged to fit the warm, closely detailed sound of the Afro Bop Alliance Big Band and each features articulate performances by the musicians on this intense recording made all the more enduring thanks to the brilliantly aggressive, evanescent musical onslaught and refined flexibility from start to finish.
Track List – CuBop; No Rest for the Bones of the Dead; Magharibi; Family of Four; Soufriere; Dialed In; Creencias.
Personnel – Joe McCarthy: leader, drumset, percussion; Roland Vázquez: conductor (2, 4, 7); Harry Appelman: piano; Jim Roberts: guitar; Tom Baldwin: bass (1, 3, 5, 6); Oscar Stagnaro: bass (2, 4, 7); Samuel Torres: congas (2, 4, 7); Ed Fast: vibraphone (2, 4, 7); Robert Quintero: congas, percussion (1, 3, 5, 6); Trumpets: Brian McDonald (lead); Mark Wood (2, 4/lead – 7); Rich Sigler; Chris Walker (1, 3, 5, 6); Dan Orban (1, 3, 5, 6); Tim Stanley (2, 6, 7/solo 3, 7); Alex Norris (solo 4); Trombones: Matt Ness (lead); Rhoades Whitehill (1, 3, 5, 6); Joe Jackson (1, 3, 5, 6); Jeff Cortazzo (1, 3, 5, 6); Victor Baranco (2, 4, 7/solo 7); Dave Perkel (2, 4, 7); Matt Neff (2, 4, 7); Saxophones: Vince Norman (lead alto/soprano/solo 1, 4, 5); Bill Mulligan (alto/flute/piccolo 2, 4, 7); Pete Barenbregge (alto/flute 1, 3, 5, 6); Joseph Henson: tenor/flute 1, 3, 5, 6); Matt Stuver (tenor/solo 4); Luis Hernández (tenor 2, 4, 6, 7/solo 2, 6); Darryl Brenzel (baritone/bass clarinet); Steel Pans: Victor Provost (lead/solos); Josanne Francis (tenor); Khandeya Sheppard (double seconds); Adam Grise (cello).
Released – 2016
Label – OA2 Records
Runtime – 57:56
Afro Bop Alliance – Angel Eyes
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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