Carlos Averhoff Jr. may certainly be forgiven for having waited to make his best album ever – a most profound dedication to his celebrated musician-saxophone playing-virtuoso-father Carlos Averhoff Sr. In retrospect, leaving the music to mature and percolate in an emotional homage. As it turned out Together is a heartfelt farewell from one Averhoff to the other. We are once more reminded how an idiom deriving essentially from the collision between Black American Music and Afro-Cuban Music, and in this case, transformed – by the musical aristocracy of the Averhoff father-and-son into a heady mix of alternating visceral energy and absolute tenderness, innocence and seduction.
And what better way to celebrate the memory of his father than for Mr Averhoff Jr. to gather together a super constellation of musical stars to join him on his journey? The phenomenal pianist Chucho Valdés, for instance, with who Mr Averhoff Jr. kicks things off [with] a proverbial doffing of the hat in orchestral fashion to Charlie “Bird” Parker: “Sequence”. We are treated here to expressions of the most exhilarating freedom and compelling expressive and mannered playing by the pianist together with another superstar, bassist Nicky Orta who, incidentally, was on the debut album that launched the US career of trumpeter Arturo Sandoval; that super group also featured the bassist’s late, piano virtuoso brother Michael Orta.
The brilliant unorthodoxy of Mr Valdés’ pianistic mastery certainly commands attention here, but so does that of Mr Orta; most certainly the performance of the leader, who plays with superb zest and brio – one magnificent harmonic variation after the other – and sets the tone for wholly imaginative playing by what seems like a wall brass [Juan Munguía] and woodwinds [Mr Averhoff together with Germán Velazco] held together by the pumping energy of drummer Reinier Guerra and conguero Juan “Wickly” Nogueras. But if you think that all of the genius of this music in confined to that opening track, think again…
Mr Averhoff Jr.’s core group consisting of the indomitable pianist Jim Gaisor – who, as it turns out, can play with masterful expression and technical facility [check out “Donna Lee” but more of that song later] – with the thunderous roar of bassist Néstor del Prada and Mr Guerra on drums. All you have to do is dig into “The Magician” and “Together”, both snapshots of this terrific rhythm section that elevates the playing of Mr Averhoff to no end. To be able to hold court with the likes of such masterful guest-musicians as flutists Néstor Torres and Orlando “Maraca” Valle, whose magic may be heard to perfection on “The Magician” and “Oriented Conga” respectively, and the great alto saxophonist César López [“Not for Everybody”] and, of course Mr Velazco and the unbridled mastery of Horacio “El Negro” Hernández, guitarists Richie Zellon and Ahmed Barroso – is no mean feat either.
Meanwhile two tracks – Sam Rivers’ iconic song “Beatrice” written for his own wife, and “En la Orilla del Mundo” – help make this album one of the most memorable you will ever have listened to – if deep listening is what you do. The former is a great vehicle for Mr Averhoff Jr. The absolute virtuosity [this time around] is expressed in the tenderness of his playing which unfolds in cascading harmonics. This high level of performance is also reflected in the magical and wistful guitar of Mr Zellon. The same is true of the latter. Here, of course, the genius of violinist Federico Britos and the gorgeous articulation, phrasing and rhythmical clarity in the vocals of Maggie Marquéz.
The absolute apogee of this disc is the deep feeling and slow burning intensity of Bird’s “Donna Lee”. The fact that Mr Averhoff also [correctly] assigns this composition to the greatest-ever musician and innovator in Black American Music [and not to Miles Davis] is also worth mentioning. But the most memorable aspect of this song is how the Averhoff’s turn Bird’s masterpiece into one of their [Afro-Cuban] making. Better yet, the magical interplay between father and son is delightfully reminiscent of the seminal partnership that Bird shared with the great Dizzy Gillespie.
That and the breathtaking playing of Mr Gaisor, Mr Del Prada and Mr Guerra make this a climactic finale to an album which Mr Averhoff Jr. is going to find challenging to match in terms of the burning intensity of his own – and everyone else’s – playing too. However, one suspects that this is not something Mr Averhoff Jr. would be thinking of doing… This is a very special date, one that Mr Averhoff should be justifiably proud of.
Tracks – 1: Sequence; 2: The Magician; 3: Together; 4: Oriented Conga; 5: Beatrice; 6: En la Orilla del Mundo; 7: Not for Everybody; 8: Donna Lee
Musicians – Carlos Averhoff Jr: tenor saxophone; Jim Gasior: piano [2 – 5, 7, 8]; Néstor del Prado: bass [2 – 5, 7, 8]; Reinier Guerra: drums [2, 3, 6, 7]; Guests – Chucho Valdés: piano ; Nicky Orta: bass ; Juan Munguía: trumpet and flugelhorn ; Juan “Wickly” Nogueras: congas [1, 4]; Néstor Torres: flute ; Germán Velazco: alto saxophone [1, 3]; Orlando “Maraca” Valle: flute ; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [4, 5, 8]; Maggie Marquéz: voice ; Federico Britos: violin 6]; Ahmed Barroso: guitar ; Richie Zellon: guitar ; César López: alto saxophone ; Special Guest – Carlos Averhoff Sr: voice and soprano saxophone  *
*Last recording [studio appearance] June 2016
Released – 2022
Label – Sunnyside Communications [SSC 1653]
Runtime – 47:32
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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