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David Virelles: Mbókò



David Virelles

Photograph by Danilo Navas

Sacred Music for Piano, Two Basses, Drum Set and Biankoméko Abakuá

The Afro-Cuban music of David Virelles’ 2015 ECM disc, Mbókò is not so much a form as it is layer upon layer of tone colours and textures assembled into a recital that is spread as if on a quintessential, ethereal canvas by one of the most promising pianists of this generation. David Virelles has proved time and time again that his is a reputation as a provocative, yet immensely thoughtful programme builder. It’s hard to think of this disc as anything but his pièce de résistance. True this is only Mr. Virelles’ third album as leader, but his immense talent seems to fructify in the rigorous musical structures of disc, which is annunciated by a flexible and deeply internalized approach to rhythm and spacing, not to mention multi-hued sonority.

David Virelles Mboko LJN 1The style could be called Afro-Cuban, but there is something of a melding of that idiom into the natural improvisation extracted from jazz. And yet the harmonic language is largely tonal, with the occasional presence of pungency as lines layer and criss-cross. This is after all the music of the spirit – ‘sacred music’ as Mr. Virelles calls it. Yes, it draws from Santeria and Abakuá the Afri-Christian rites practiced traditionally and this is exemplified by the magnificent call and response between David Virelles and that griot of Afro-Cuban tradition, Román Díaz. Here things get more tricky and delightful. David Virelles has also chosen two basses to lead the unfolding of the music. Thus he has attempted to create a molten mix in his harmonic-rhythmic language, while his guidance of the melodic lines, if you can at all call them that, tends towards a serious, brooding lyricism.

All of these qualities reveal themselves in how freely yet naturally and logically the sacred music unfolds along with the leisurely and well spun-out into lively dance-like relationships between the music and its intent that gels into poetry and music. Forms dissolve and sketches arise as the musical painting becomes more vivid towards the middle of the music – roughly equivalent to the acceleration of the rituals, where dancing becomes more frenetic. This seemingly chaotic part of the ritual is revealed in dissonant passages stabbed by bass-line melodies from Robert Hurst and Thomas Morgan that collide with the piano-lines of David Virelles, all of which is glued together by Marcus Gilmore’s chattering drums and the incessant thunder of Román Díaz’s hand drum. The high spirits of the music seems into the mind’s ear here and torrid emotions may be savoured as a kind of sinuous melody builds up in intensity of rhythmic zest.

The pleasures of this music can be attributed as much to David Virelles’ writing and arranging as well as the contributions made to his music by those who play it for him – Román Díaz and Marcus Gilmore and the magnificent playing of the two bassists, Thomas Morgan and Robert Hurst. This is where the wondrous mix of the piano and the other instruments reaches a rarified realm as the crack ensemble that play with the depth of sonority and rhythmic gusto that this music demands. Listen to Highest One to know what I mean. Happily all of this is captured by the excellent engineers at the ECM studios in München.

Track List: Wind Rose (Antrogofoko mokoirén); The Scribe (Tratado de Mpegó); Biankoméko; Antillais (A Quintín Bandera); Aberisún y Aberiñán; Seven, Through The Divination Horn; Stories Waiting To Be Told; Transmission; The Highest One; Èfé (A María Teresa Vera).

Personnel: David Virelles: piano; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Robert Hurst: double bass; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Román Díaz: biankoméko, vocals.

Label: ECM Records
Release date: October 2015
Running time: 57:31
Buy music on: amazon

About David Virelles

The Brooklyn – based Virelles, who once became the first recipient of the Oscar Peterson award, has performed or recorded with Ravi Coltrane, Henry Threadgill, Román Díaz, Tomasz Stanko, Wadada Leo Smith, Jane Bunnett and The Spirits Of Havana, Dewey Redman, Sam Rivers, Steve Coleman, Andrew Cyrille, Hermeto Pascoal, José Luis Quintana “Changuito”, Stanley Cowell, Chucho Valdés, Paul Motian, Chris Potter, Mark Turner, Tom Harrell, Milford Graves, Alberto Lescay, among 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.

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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá



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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