When Alex Conde turns up the power at any given time, he’s like an orchestra all by himself. Now magnify that several times on Origins, a disc on which his power is augmented by brass: Brian Lynch on trumpet and Conrad Herwig on trombone, and woodwinds with Dayna Stephens on tenor and soprano saxophones together with a rhythm section with enormous clout, featuring Luques Curtis or John Benitez on bass, Marcus Gilmore, a young Turk whose pedigree goes back to his grandfather, Roy Haynes; Guillermo Barrón on cajón augmented by Camilo Molina on timbales, Andrés Abenante on guitar, together with Frank Abenante and Isabel Abenante providing uniquely Flamenco colouring with their rhythmic hand-clapping. And as if that were not enough there are the voices of Mr Conde’s father Alejandro Sr and Ismael Fernández.
All of this firepower makes Origins a rather special experience. Mr Conde is, of course, a pianist whose music is sustained by the fecundity of his Spanish roots. Like his legendary musical forebear from Cádiz, the pianist Chano Domínguez, Mr Conde explores the dramatic fallout of a collision between Spanish music and dance idioms and forms such as the bulería on the effervescent album opener “Bulerijazz”, the magical “La Leyenda Del Tiempo” featuring a poem by the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (one of two songs) voiced by Ismael Fernández, one on which Brian Lynch and Conrad Herwig turn up the heat with a flame-throwing soli, and “Descarga Por Bulerías”.
But there is also more explosive energy from “seguiriyas” such as “Spring Break”, “tangos” in “Upper West Side”; a fascinating piece – in the ever-complex rhythms of guaguancó-tanguillos, an original soleá entitled “Soleà De Ismael”. The other torch-song on the disc is, of course “El Emigrante” a “copla flamenca from the mystical pen of Juanito Valderrama, “cried”, not sung, with heartbreaking beauty by Alejandro Conde Sr. with Mr Stephens who matches the “weeping” with a moist chorus of his own on tenor saxophone.
Through it all, of course, Mr Conde is absolutely thrilling. He swings and fizzes and engages in a myriad filigree exchanges with the horns, guitarist, rhythmists and, most thrilling of all, with the vocalists (we want more here!) and percussionists. At heart, Mr Conde is a romantic and a miniaturist and his music is, naturally, often consumed by emotion. It’s part of being Spanish – being born of Flamenco and Deep Song. You hear the majesty of both influences on Mr Conde’s profoundly beautiful ballad “The Great Priest” characterised by pianism reliant on gently curved notes and magnificently sculpted phrases.
With this Mr Conde brings nuanced colour and emotion into his playing, and this shows – marvellously, one might add – never has to be all brimstone and fire. And with this Mr Conde brings a more contemplative sense of questing to the raw, driving Deep Song; another step perhaps in his intriguing exploratory journey into the realm where Spanish music its tendrils entwined with Jazz embracing each other like besotted, fatally attracted lovers.
Track list – 1: Bulerijazz; 2: Upper West Side; 3: Spring Break; 4: La Leyenda Del Tiempo; 5: Jungle Street; 6: The Great Priest; 7: El Emigrante; 8: Soleà De Ismael; 9: Descarga Por Bulerías; 10: El Emigrante (Instrumental)
Personnel – Alex Conde: piano and keyboards; Guillermo Barrón: cajón; Luques Curtis: contrabass; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Conrad Herwig: trombone; Brian Lynch: trumpet; Dayna Stephens: tenor and soprano saxophones; Special Guests – Andrés Abenante: guitar ( 1, 4, 5, 9); John Benitez: electric bass (1, 2, 9); Alejandro Conde Sr: vocal (7); Ismael Fernández: vocal (4, 9); Camilo Molina: timbales (5); Frank Abenante and Isabel Abenante: palmas
Released – 2018
Label – ropeadope
Runtime – 1:07:25
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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