With the spectacularly intriguing album Cantar the drummer, composer, pedagogue and – now in one fell swoop – a out-and-out songwriter as well, Dafnis Prieto makes a magical transition from a composer and performer of his maddeningly intricate rhythm-driven melodies to full-blooded lyric repertoire. Make no mistake, this also means that his music comes with original [lyrics] that meet the highest standards of poetic content in song. As an additional master-stroke Mr Prieto has featured, alongside himself and an exquisite [accompanying] quartet, the ineffably wonderful – and mystical interpreter of song – the vocal-gymnast, Luciana Souza.
You couldn’t ask for a more potent pairing of musicians. As a drummer of considerable repute Mr Prieto comes with a musical temperament that forges rugged, a salt-of-the-earth approach to rhythmic colouring with high-flying sophistication and thrilling complexity. Meanwhile Ms Souza [who has also contributed the lyrics of the baião “Houve um Tempo”, collaborated to the English-language original “The Muse” and translated the bolero, “Amanhecer Contigo” into Portuguese] is a vocalist who is capable of such delicate fragility and vulnerable emotion that she could quite literally bring even the most stoic listener to tears, and who – at the flip of a switch, with incredible leaping, aria-like coloratura – produce theatrical fireworks that can ignite a narrative and all-but burn down the proverbial house.
For the record, Ms Souza gives immediate notice of this ability to make an impossible leaping traversal across multiple layers and registers with blistering rhythmic and high-sprung beauty on “Guajira en Sol”. This dramatics throughout the vocal elements of this album receive a significant boost because Mr Prieto himself has mastered the art of rhythmic-vocalastic styles that range from his own invented style that can mimic not only [Brasilian] instruments, but even the most complicated rhythmic Afro-Cuban patterns to the Indian [Carnatic] form of konnokol, an extremely difficult style of vocal percussion, which combines vocal inflection with near-impossible arithmetical tempi. [Deep-listening to “Houve Um Tempo” and “To the Concert” is highly recommended].
However, all these hi-jinx apart, Mr Prieto – with Ms Souza’s magical interpretations of his work – has managed to craft an album of immense, songful and poetic beauty. Who knew that the drummer had a romantic bone in his body? Apparently no one but Mr Prieto, it would appear… According to his note accompanying the album he has harboured a dream of writing songs for a considerable length of time and has worked on ideas – and perhaps – even whole sections of these works over an extended period of time before finally pulling out the stops and producing the repertoire on Cantar.
Equally of note is the fact that Mr Prieto has managed to retain the intriguing rhythmic inventions that are characteristic of his compositional style, while adding layers of lyricism topped up with tonal beauty and colour to all of the songs. Over and above the inimitable vocals of Ms Souza, the album also brings together other heavyweight musicians.
The multi-instrumentalist, Peter Apfelbaum is monumental throughout, as the other – often lead – voice on the charts. “Guajira en Lu” is just one example of Mr Apfelbaum’s melodic and harmonic ingenuity. The pianist Martin Bejerano also comes with artistic – melodic, harmonic and [crucially] rhythmic – heft in spades. Internalising each song and almost making it his own he returns the music to its composer with quantum surprise. The virtuosity of bassist Matt Brewer is subtly and tastefully expressed as he becomes – quite literally – the drummer’s harmonic and rhythmic doppelgänger.
This album has so much going for it – including the Grammy-award-winning and elegant touch of Larry Klein [co-producer along with Eric Oberstein] – that it is going to take many hours of repeated listening for the full extent of its wondrous achievements to be realised.
Tracks – 1: Guajira en Sol; 2: When I Miss You; 3: Houve Um Tempo; 4: Sueño de Amor; 5: To the Concert; 6: Brisa; 7: Amanhecer Contigo; 8: Unknown Man; 9: The Muse; 10: Guajira en Lu
Musicians – Dafnis Prieto: drums, percussion, vocals and music director; Luciana Souza: vocals and percussion; Peter Apfelbaum: woodwinds, melodica, percussion and keyboards; Martin Bejerano: piano; Matt Brewer: contrabass and electric bass
Released – 2022
Label – Dafnison Music 
Runtime – 48:55
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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