Listeners – simple and sophisticated – who have, by now become used to the music of David Virelles might come to expect that with each recording he will push further at the boundaries of music that has grown out of his Afro-Cuban heritage, especially since his last couple of recordings with legendary Jazz musicians such as Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman. With Igbó Alákorin The Singer’s Grove Vol. I & II they are in for – not a surprise – but a shock; the surprise being that with this recording Mr Virelles returns to the glory days of the trovadores (of at least a hundred years ago) and shock because he plays the music in the authentic style that it was played back then – in the grand manner of the musicians of Santiago de Cuba (or Oriente, as it was called before 1905), and by musicians such as those in the Chepín-Chovén Orchestra (as he tells us in his brief notes), one of the legendary Afro-Cuban bands of Cuba.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · David Virelles: Igbó Alákorin
And yet while this is a nostalgic return to his own Afro-Cuban heritage into which he was born and schooled by his father (and mother), it is far from sentimental and retrograde; rather a musical excursion into what makes Afro-Cuban music – danzón, Oriental , chepinsón, pregón, bolero and trova – so magical. And even if you have to wait until “Sube la Loma, Compay” for the angular dissonance to emerge from the pianism of Mr Virelles, it is a dreamy voyage throughout. In many respects this musical journey could be made countless times and each one will feel as if it is your first time, just as it is listening to Schubert’s Lieder or Mahler’s for the first time, because like classical song, this music, which has been centuries in the making is forever fresh – certainly as it is on this recording.
The music also puts the young Mr Virelles in the enviable company of his ancestors such as Bebo and Chucho Valdés for the dazzling simplicity of both his musicianship and his pianism. At no time is the listener distracted by gratuitous virtuosity. Every note and every phrase with each nuanced accented utterance is a model of craftsmanship. There are two volumes to this single disc. The first highlights music played in an orchestral setting and featuring the incomparable trovadores Emilio Despaigne Robert and Alejandro Almenares, who also accompanies himself on the requinto, a guitar unique to Cuba, both of whom conjure the halcyon days of the trovadores. Volume two highlights Mr Virelles in a duet setting with Rafael Ábalos accompanying him on güiro in a virtuoso performance which sets the bar at a new height for that instrument.
This repertoire comprises fourteen songs and together the recording unfolds like the soundtrack of a classic film in which visuals appear like wet canvases melting one into the other as the music ebbs and flows until its final dénouement. Throughout it all, whether he is featured on his instrument or playing in the shadows of the spotlight which shines on one or the other vocalists or musicians soloing here Mr Virelles gives a stellar account of his ingenious musicianship as we become not only mesmerised by the naked beauty of this music but by the unbridled genius of the young pianist who is bringing it all back to everlasting life.
Track list – Vol I David Virelles Introduces Orquesta Luz de Oriente 1: Bodas de Oro; 2: El Rayaero; 3: Grato Recuerdo; 4: Echa Pa’ Allá; 5: Canto a Oriente; 6: Un Granito de Arena; 7. Sube la Loma, Compay; 8: Cosas de Mi Cuba; 9. Ojos de Sirena. Vol II – Danzones de Romeu at Café la Diana 10: Tápame Que Tengo Frío; 11: Tira la Cuchara y Rompe El Plato; 12: Mojito Criollo; 13: Mares y Arenas; 14: Tres Lindas Cubanas
Personnel – Vol I – David Virelles: piano and chorus; Alejandro Almenares: requinto, lead vocals (3, 5, 8, 9) and chorus; Emilio Despaigne Robert: lead vocals (2, 7) and chorus; Rafael Ábalos: timbal, güiro and chorus; José Ángel Martínez: bass; Lázaro Bandera: congas; Román Filiú: alto saxophone; René “La Flor” Domínguez: tenor saxophone; Baudelis Rodríguez: baritone saxophone; Abel Virelles: trumpet; José Aquiles Virelles: chorus; Gabriel Montero: pailitas criollas, claves (2, 7); with John Benítez: bass (5, 8). Vol II – David Virelles: piano; Rafael Ábalos: güiro
Released – 2018
Label – Pi Recordings (P178)
Runtime – 59:04
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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