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Akua Dixon – Moving On

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Although the cello is not new to the idiom of jazz—Oscar Pettiford was a master of the instrument and played it often—there is very little music that has been written for this brother or, in this case sister, of the violin, viola and contrabass. Also rare is an album dedicated solely to the instrument.

Now comes Moving On, an album from the magnificent cellist, Akua Dixon and things may be about to change if this is indeed a sign that Ms. Dixon has really chosen to move on. The cellist was, after all, almost always cast in the shadow of another musician—be it trombonist Steve Turre, her own Quartette Indigo, or some other leading light in the art of music. Now Ms. Dixon is on her own and from the musical evidence on record, she has taken a huge leap of faith without the proverbial safety net, not only playing her beloved instrument, but also singing along with it.

Akua Dixon is a fascinating musician. She is a great virtuoso cellist playing almighty command of those taut strings that stretch across the somewhat elongated neck of an instrument that, because of its range and registers, is able to captivate the senses. Ms. Dixon plays the instrument almost always con arco, transposing notes and melodies, chords and harmonies into the deepest parts of the soul. Here she taps into emotions that she extracts from the soul’s vortex; she sets them free to roam in the brain and the mind of anyone who cares to listen with his or her heart and thus takes control of her listeners’ senses. Indeed, she plays with the power to control those senses. Ms. Dixon’s phrases lope and gambol, stroll and leap in great arcs carving the air as if they were great scythes. Her lines are sometimes longer and they dance and pirouette like unselfconscious ballet performers and jazz dancers responding to the prompts of their most compelling passions. Most of all there is almost no precedence for her music. She seems to play all that she does propelled by her own soul and its desires.

There is evidence of that in her terrific, bittersweet chart “Moving On”. If she intended this elegy to be a reflection of personal hurt and loss, then it most certainly reflects those emotions the melancholy tone of its harmonics. But there is also a powerful catharsis that emerges from the movement of the melody. The music begins with a series of poignant notes strung together like memories on a necklace beaded together to remind the musician of all that was beautiful once and then changes into phrases—new beads—that reek of elemental pain; of irreparable loss that she might have felt not too long ago as the phraseology of the middle section of the song suggests an inexorable ache. This mood changes into a certain ebullience as Ms. Dixon charts her solo ever forward as she literally distances herself from that emotion and reaches above to soar on an emotional thermal once more. This song is just one of the high points of this record.

The other song is “Black is Beautiful” on which Ms. Dixon literally does a star turn as a vocalist who exudes so much power that she recalls to mind not just Nina Simone and Betty Carter but also the legendary Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday. While her voice certainly may be liked to Ms. Simone and Ms. Carter, Akua Dixon proves that she can cast a mesmerising narrative web as only Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday could. There is a sense that Ms. Dixon’s pride and Afro-centricity bursts out of the song like an emotion that is too powerful to hide. This was always the hallmark of Ms. Lincoln’s and Ms. Holliday (and indeed that of Nina Simone and Betty Carter as well).

Akua Dixon also does magical things on the Charlie Parker classic, “Confirmation,” especially as she combines with the other superb instrumentalist—guitarist Ron Jackson—on this record. But the music that captivates at the end of the record is remarkable and worth noticing for the virtuoso performance of Ms. Dixon. Here she displays her “chops” most joyfully. Also, both “With My Heart” and “Whatever” are displays of great of great pomp and circumstance and in the nicest way possible almost proud statements of the cellist’s command and control of her instrument. The songs also bode extremely well for Ms. Dixon’s future as a musician and instrumentalist as she most certainly will chart her own course as one of the leading lights of the cello in any form of music with her compositions on that instrument as well as with her astounding virtuosity as well.

Tracks: Determination; Mañha De Carnaval; Moving On; Black Is Beautiful; A Gozar Con Mi Combo; Confirmation; With All My Heart; Whatever.

Personnel: Akua Dixon: cello, Yamaha Silent Cello (3), voice (4); Ron Jackson: guitar; Kenny Davis: bass (1 – 3); Dwayne Burno: bass (4 – 8); Jaimeo Brown: drums (1 – 3); Willie Jones III: drums (4 – 7); Ignacio Berroa: drums (8).

Akua Dixon on the Web: www.akuadixon.com

Label: Dixon Music

Release date: March 2012

Reviewed by: Raul da Gama

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

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.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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.

Deo gratis…

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 [9]

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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