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Antonio Serrano & Federico Lechner: La Extraña Pareja

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If Toots Thielemans set the stage for the classic birth of the chromatic harmonica in music then its reincarnation was set about by Hendrik Meurkens. Now a new generation is tearing up what is rationally possible and remaking the harmonic end of the instrument, combining what is possible of its affiliation with the horn, the violin and with the piano as well. Prominent among them is Gregoire Maret and the sadly lesser-known Spaniard, Antonio Serrano. All that is about to change with the release of this magnificent album, La Extraña Pareja comprising a series of remarkable duets between Mr. Serrano and the Argentine-born, Madrid-based pianist, Federico Lechner; two musicians with an intense and empathetic affinity for the others’ art. Without really meaning to, the album recalls another famous duo session—that between another stellar pianist, the Canadian, Andy Milne and Gregoire Maret; an album called Scenarios (ObliqSound, 2007). This album, La Extraña Pareja, is equally exciting, yet vastly different because the players themselves—Mr. Maret and Mr. Milne and Mr. Serrano and Mr. Lechner—are polar opposites, the former pair being cool and dramatically airy in their intertwining improvisations and the latter musicians engaged in the intense heat of dialogue.

Antonio Serrano has done something quite unique with the harmonica; he has extended its range into what seems like the territory of the tenor saxophone. He has also markedly pitched the harmonica alongside the violin (and sometimes the viola) playing it almost like those stringed instruments, complete with soaring glissandos and theatrical double-stops; all this while playing fluid runs and arpeggios as if he were playing the mighty grand piano as well. Add to that the fact that Mr. Serrano’s playing is so vivid that he sometimes adds a vocal dimension to his playing. He does not sing his harmonics, the way that the late great Albert Mangelsdorff did on the trombone, but there is an almost spectral vocal element to his playing. With all of this remarkable technique at his disposal, Mr. Serrano plays lines with ingenious annunciation, exquisite expression and sublime creativity. It is as if the harmonica were completely re-invented at his command. The superlative expeditious playing of John Coltrane’s masterpiece, “Giant Steps”—not once, but twice—and the epic reinvention of Charlie Parker’s sensational “Donna-Lee” can only be admired with bated breath for their gorgeous creativity and emotional and innovative dialogues between the two musicians. And “Bluff” is a classic waiting to be discovered.

Federico Lechner is another wonderful musician, who plays the piano as if he were making vigorous and sensual love to a woman who responds in like manner. Listening to him play as he echoes his sentimental love-making almost vocally, feels like trespassing on an inner space filled with remarkable sensuality, vivid colours and silken textures. This kind of playing is almost alien to the European and American consciousness, but it is second nature to Latin-America. It comes from musicians being swathed in the diaphanous textures and rhythmic intensity of Afro-Caribbean music; its influences seeming to stem from the dusty shuffle of feet reflecting the polyrhythmic intensity of the drums of delight. Mr. Lechner is one of those pianists—like the Valdés dynasty from Cuba—who is as attuned to the music of Rodrigo as he is to that of the Yoruba drummers. His hands flutter like a sunbird’s wings as the fingers dip in and out of the ebony and ivory keys as if they were flowers whose nectar beckoned hypnotically. Mr. Lechner’s finest moments come on “Patynando” and “Haroula’s Dream”.

Of course the rest of the album is full of breathtaking flashes of brilliance that play out like intensely dazzling intermingling of the genius of two vastly different musicians indulging in polyphony and polyrhythms of the highest order. The result is an album of intense highs that seem to light up the score sheets with rare and mesmerising beauty that echoes long after the last notes of “Giant Steps” fades once more.

Tracks: La Extraña Pareja (Theme From “The Odd Couple”); Zamba Para Mariano; Patynando; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Giant Steps; 26-2; Haroula’s Dream; Donna Lee; Bluff; Recuerdos De Tigre; Giant Steps (Bonus Track).

Personnel: Antonio Serrano: harmonica; Federico Lechner: piano.

Label: Youkali Music
Release date: August 2012
Antonio Serrano & Federico Lechner on the Web: serranolechner.com
Buy Antonio Serrano & Federico Lechner’s music: amazon

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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