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Alex Diaz & Santo Domingo Afrojazz: Organic Merengue

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Alex Diaz & Santo Domingo Afrojazz Organic Merengue

Alex Diaz & Santo Domingo Afrojazz Organic MerengueOne important aspect of the music on this disc that strikes you almost immediately is that a Hammond B3 organ is melded in with the Organic Merengue (Merengue Orgánico). Alex Diaz could not have found a more important musician to bring the sanctified sound of a Holy Rolling Southern AME church into the grassroots music of The Dominican Republic. Greg Lewis is one of the finest exponents of the instrument and not just for the facility with which he plays the instrument, but for the fact that he is able to inform this music with the elemental fervour in the African (spiritual) influences that unites the African diaspora across the Caribbean and the United States.

Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Organic Merengue

It takes one cursory look at the repertoire to realise, however, that it’s certainly not selected from the hymnals of either The Dominican Republic or the United States. From the fact that three of the authors of the music on this disc are colourfully secular men such as Frank Foster, Hermeto Pascoal and Vince Guaraldi, it is clear that this is also meant to be a celebration of the uniqueness of the music – merengue and Jazz – and the deeply African rhythms present in both styles that acts as the beautiful glue that holds it all together. And although there is a certain “bigness” to the performance it’s certainly not why this music makes a powerful impression on the mind’s ear and the body’s central nervous system where the brain sends out a command to “get up and dance”.

The performance at times has all the visceral energy of a full-blooded comparsa and even if the Diablo Cojuelo doesn’t necessarily make an appearance, the suggestion of ghost in all his regalia is ever-present in the joyous expression of the music. Thus, Frank Foster’s balladry is also pummeled by the ferocious conga break from Alex Diaz. Greg Lewis’ organ adds a rich and not entirely unpredictable harmonic foundation to Hermeto Pascoal’s “Amazonas”, Vince Guaraldi’s “Ginza Samba” has a rippling jazzy groove with the percussive tumbling groove, driven not only by Mr. Diaz, but also by the punching staccato lines of Ivan Renta’s tenor saxophone, adding worldly tone colours to Greg Lewis’ twinkling Americana. And the saxophone swings with mighty abandon on the ebullient “Amigos Juntos” from the great Mario Rivera.

Organic Merengue is nothing if not touching and toe-tapping in equal measure.

Track list – 1: Simone; 2: Amazonas; 3: Ginza Samba; 4: Amigos Juntos; 5: En la Oscuridad; 6: Yesterday; 7: Dominicanita

Personnel – Alex Diaz: leader, congas and guiro; Ivan Renta: alto and tenor saxophones; Greg Lewis: Hammond B3 organ; Joel Mateo: drums; Ramón Azor: tambora; Nelsón Jaime “Gazú”: trumpet (7)

Released – 2018
Label – Independent
Runtime – 37:19

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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Featured Albums

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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