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Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Joe Henderson

The most interesting challenge in reinventing music that has already been invented in a particular idiom is not necessarily melodic. In fact it is almost certainly rhythmic. This is especially true if the idiom happens to be Latin …

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Conrad Herwig - The Latin Side of Joe Henderson

The most interesting challenge in reinventing music that has already been invented in a particular idiom is not necessarily melodic. In fact it is almost certainly rhythmic. This is especially true if the idiom happens to be Latin. How to change up the time and the pulse of the material without necessarily complicating it, but actually making it simpler? How to make the rhythm more interesting without making it impossible to count? How to add musical instruments to the overall mix and inspiring these musicians to bring their own special rhythmic idiosyncrasies to the mix? Conrad Herwig has been doing this and more in his series of Latin Side… albums and this one, The Latin Side of Joe Henderson may be the most interesting, the most challenging and the most accomplished yet. The tenor saxophonist, one of the most highly skilled and versatile in jazz was a passionate lover of rhythms Latin and wrote some of the most famous charts, including “Recorda Me” and “Black Narcissus,” tunes which came to be among the most recorded tunes in this music as well. The trombonist Conrad Herwig, for his part, has begun by developing a deep appreciation of Mr. Henderson’s Afro-Latin sensibility and then not just translating it, but transmogrifying it into music of his own invention.

One clever aspect of the new versions of the charts is that they have been ever so slightly slowed down. So imperceptible is this change that it is almost elusive and discernible only after a few hearings. Some might find this a disadvantage, but those might be jumping to conclusions just a little bit too early in the proceedings. Listen instead with an open mind to the very first chart on the album: “Recorda Me” and the very first solo on the tune comes not from Mr. Herwig, but the great baritone saxophonist, Ronnie Cuber. The saxophonist, a master of all things Latin dives head-first into his solo. He plays from deep inside his soul, one so formless and bottomless that Mr. Cuber is able to come up with not only lungs full of air, but also a palette of colours so varied and such a treat for the sensibilities that herein lies the key to enjoying this fabulous tune. Mr. Cuber’s playing as well as Mr. Herwig’s is absolutely mystical. Another magical composition by Joe Henderson is “Afro-Centric,” perhaps one of his most experimental as well. The quicksilver changes and the jumping rhythmic changes are manifest in the choruses that unfold like giant waves smashing on a pristine beach. The chart immediately following is “Black Narcissus,” another important and spectacular tune from the men of Mr. Henderson. The full-blooded romanticism of this rhythm skips and dances ahead of and behind certain intervals and its seemingly interminable forward motion is like hopscotch. “Blue Bossa,” is beautifully re-invented with such mastery that it sounds now familiar and now completely new and imaginative with its jumping rhythmic changes in line after line, which segues into a fine solo by Mr. Cuber. And this magical change up only represents some of the almost obsessive changes on the album. The beauty of it all is that the music is always danceable in a gentle or vigorous manner depending on how energetic the listener feels.

Finally the mix of instruments is fascinating. Two saxophones that easily hop from the bottom registers of those winds to the top manned by Ronnie Cuber and on tenor by the masterful Joe Lovano. And then there is the trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, whose magical timbre is spread like a blessing all over the music. There must also be mention of Bill O’Connell, whose ingenious playing is almost something to take for granted, because he is such a master on the big keyboard. However his touch is magical and he almost seals the chow from under the horns. There is also the percussionists who add exquisite colour to the constantly changing music. But the lions’ share of the kudos must go to Conrad Herwig, for beauty that is sometimes so imperceptible it could be missed altogether. Fortunately his genius is all over the album and therefore this could be forgiven. Well, almost…

Track List: Recorda Me; Mamacita; Afro-Centric; Black Narcissus; Blue Bossa; Inner Urge.

Personnel: Conrad Herwig: trombone; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone; Ronnie Cuber: baritone saxophone; Alex Sipiagin: trumpet; Bill O’Connell: piano; Ruben Rodriguez: bass; Robby Ameen: drums; Richie Flores: percussion.

Label: Half Note Records | Release date: October 2014

Website: conradherwig.com | Buy music on: amazon

Sample Track Excerpt: Recorda Me

About Conrad Herwig

New York-based jazz trombonist Conrad Herwig is considered one of the world’s complete jazz musicians, atop both the performing and jazz educational fields with an abundance of composer and arranger credits, as well. To date, he has released 20 recordings as a leader in addition to contributing to nearly 200 other recording sessions with some of the most notable artists in jazz. He has performed and recorded with Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Frank Sinatra, Joe Lovano and Tom Harrell, among many others… Read more…

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.

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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