Chembo Corniel Quintet: Artistas, Músicos y Poetas
This album by Wilson “Chembo” Corniel bills itself as Artistas, Músicos y Poetas and takes its cue from all the things that a performer could be – a poet and a musician and, in sum: an artist. It is also Mr Corniel taking a wry look at himself in the mirror and seeing himself as he really is, which is both of the above. Above all else, it is Mr Corniel paying rich and reverential tribute to three of the legendary poets of Afro-Caribbean music: Eladio “Don Pancho” Terry, perhaps the greatest of all poets of the shèkeré, that mystical gourd that accompanies Regla Lucumi chants [in this case, lifting up Mr Corniel and his music]. The album also pays tribute – and features the poets, Felipe Luciano and Ismael Carlo East [who closes this masterful hit parade on this album].
Still, nothing can prepare the listener for the explosive opening chart, which begins with Don Pancho Terry ‘blessing’ Mr Corniel and the percussionist-leader returning the favour with one of the most incandescent expositions of percussion music. This music is the very definition of the majesty of Afro-Caribbean music, something that Mr Corniel has come to define with his music. Don Pancho displays what has made him such a legendary player on the shèkeré throughout this piece, seemingly firing up the other musicians to reach heavenward with their own musical offerings.
Such a magnificent might not always bode well for the music that follows, but not in this case. With his dark, raspy voice Ismael Carlo East leads the musicians in what is an astonishing follow-up to Mr Corniel’s opening number, Volando con Don Pancho Terry. The song entitled P.R.I.D.E is a jabbing harmonic and rhythmic rejoinder that speaks of the importance of Puerto Rico in the formation of the Afro-Caribbean musical culture. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the presence of the other percussionists who help raise this music to the rarefied realm. Featured on Pa’la Ocha Tambo and Big City Gossip are Victor Rendón and Cascadu Escayg, who display astonishing skills on the bàtá drums along with Mr Corniel.
I suspect that Mr Corniel’s deep-rooted involvement with Afro-Caribbean musical traditions in fact, informs the entire recording with a series of freewheeling, rhythmically complex interactions between the master rhythmists on board for the album and the rest of the musicians who are the guardians of melody and harmony, beginning with the powerful voice of tenor saxophonist [and flutist] Hery Paz, the virtuoso pianism of Carlos Cuevas [with the inimitable Elio Villafranca and Héctor Martignon appearing on Volando con Don Pancho Terry and Pa’la Ocha Tambo respectively], and the rumbling bass of Ian Stewart [and the euphoric enchantment of drummer Joel E. Matos.
But there’s constant and masterful dueling between what comes across as orchestral percussion and the chordal instruments that drive the harmonic and melodic content of the album’s repertoire. In all of this Mr Corniel is heard constantly wresting the music away from the rest of the orchestra.
However, the quintet – with guests forming a veritable orchestra – is much too powerful and thus there is a constant – and magnificent – push and pull between the percussionists and the rest of the quintet, embellished by such luminaries as flutist Andrea Brachfeld, as well as saxophone wizards Paul Carlon and Iván Renta, and trumpeter Agustin Someillan García. The wall of rhythm is complete with bassists like Rubén Rodríguez and Mike Viñas on contrabass, as well as two of master musicians and strings players in Afro-Caribbean music: tresero Ben Lapidus and cuatro player Juan Aldahondo.
The disc’s repertoire is challenging in terms of balance, texture and ensemble. The musicians pull off all of the challenges that Mr Corniel’s music throws at them with exceptional cohesion and an outpouring of – not only musical, but almost sacred emotions summoned by the powerful compositions by Chembo Corniel and others.
YouTube Playlist – Chembo Corniel Quintet: Artistas, Músicos y Poetas
Music – 1: Volando con Don Pancho Terry; 2: P.R.I.D.E; 3: Dalila; 4: Child of Wisdom; 5: Pa’la Ocha Tambo; 6: Lagrima de monte; 7: Big City Gossip; 8: Evidence; 9: Red Hook Rumba
Musicians – Wilson “Chembo” Corniel Jr: tumbadoras, cajón, barril de bomba, bàtá – itotèlé, quinto, shèkeré, gua-gua, clave , güiro, and miscellaneous percussion; Hery Paz: tenor saxophone and flute; Carlos Cuevas: piano and Fender Rhodes; Ian Stewart: electric bass; Joel E. Mateo: drums, clave  and clavé . Special Guests – Eladio “Don Pancho” Terry: shèkeré and voice ; Héctor Martignon: piano ; Elio Villafranca: piano ; Adán Pérez: piano ; Vince Cherico: drums ; Iván Llanes: drums [4, 5]; Rubén Rodríguez: contrabass ; Mike Viñas: contrabass ; Andrea Brachfeld: flute [1, 2]; Paul Carlon: tenor saxophone ; Iván Renta: tenor saxophone ; Agustin Someillan García: trumpet [4, 5]; Nelson Matthew González: primo barril and maraca ; Ángel “Cuqui” Lebrón: trombones ; Ben Lapidus: Cuban tres and coros ; Juan Aldahondo: Puerto Rican cuatro ; Victor Rendón: bàtá – iya [5, 7] and shèkeré ; Yasuyo Kimura: shèkeré ; Cascadu Escayg: bàtá – okónkolo [5, 7]; José Costa: maracas ; Felipe Luciano: recitation ; Ismael Carlo East: recitation 
Released – 2023
Label – Chemboro Records [CR-8182]
Runtime – 49:27
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