You may think you “know” the Bronx – and the South Bronx – in particular and depending on the time you have spent visiting it you may think you understand its unique character. But listening to The South Bronx Story, a series of vignettes about the barrio in which composer and bass-playing musician Carlos Henriquez grew up you are taken into quite another world. Clearly the intimacy with which Mr Henriquez knows his many-splendoured home is deeply affecting and this is exquisitely painted in the repertoire that unfolds on this album.
Mr Henriquez is a master of his instrument and he brings to it a rumbling gravitas that is rare among his peers. This has earned him enormous respect not just with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, whose bass chair he has held for two decades and more. His Puerto Rican heritage means that his blood throbs with the rhythm of bomba and plena. More than that he has developed a singular voice in the ubiquitous language of Afro-Caribbean music, as he toured the world and impressed audiences not only with his virtuosity, but also with the depth of his pedagogy. He has also made his presence felt as an ambassador of his music on a celebrated trip to Cuba with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, a trip well-documented on record.
The South Bronx Story pees away the diaphanous curtain that flutters across el barrio. The ten songs on the album sound as if they are a sort of loosely-connected soundtrack of his life and inject a cinematic quality, launching into a broodingly percussive groove from the first evocative track “The South Bronx”, which lifts the curtain on the moving musical feast that follows. The music gushes with unfettered joy and wistful expectation through “Hydrants for All”; it roars with an angry flame on charts such as “Boro of Fire” and “Moses on the Cross” and growls and simmers under Mr Henriquez’s spoken word on “Black [Benji]. Likewise, the music ebbs and flows as if in mighty waves through the rest of the repertoire. Mr Henriquez’s vivid notes provide an essential guide to the uninitiated.
As in other recordings he has made as a leader, Mr Henriquez has brought together a celestial cast of musicians. Each one shines in ensemble and on soli that are wonderfully and idiomatically performed. Tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, trombonist Marshall Gilkes, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and pianist Robert Rodriguez are masterful on their outings. Trumpeter Terell Stafford and drummer Obed Calvaire and percussionist Anthony Almonte are miraculous, and Jeremy Bosch interprets Mr Henriquez’s lyrics with power and poetry. But this is Mr Henriquez’s album; one on which he outdoes himself, as he imbues this music with very special meaning and grace.
Track list – 1: The South Bronx; 2: Hydrants Love All; 3: Boro on Fire; 4: Moses on the Cross; 5: Momma Lorraine; 6: Soy Humano 7: Black [Benji]; 8: Guajeo de Papi; 9: Fort Apache; 10: Hip Hop con Clave
Personnel – Carlos Henriquez: bass, coro, guiro and spoken word [on 7]; Jeremy Bosch: flute, vocals and coro [featured on 2, 4, 6, 8, 10]; Melissa Aldana: tenor saxophone [featured on 4, 7, 9]; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet [featured on 2, 3, 5, 6, 9]; Anthony Almonte: congas and coro [featured on 1, 3, 9, 10]; Marshall Gilkes: trombone [featured on 3, 8]; Robert Rodriguez: piano and Fender Rhodes [featured on 5, 8 – 10]; Obed Calvaire: drums [featured on 1, 3, 9, 10]; Terell Stafford: trumpet [featured on 1, 2, 4, 8]
Released – 2021
Label – Tiger Turn 
Runtime – 1:03:06
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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