Very rarely indeed does one get to call an album of music “a masterpiece” and actually mean it. But this is absolutely true of The Grand Concourse by the pianist, composer, arranger and producer Dayramir González. There is not a note that is out of place, not a phrase that does not bring a rush of blood to the cheeks – not from any one of the scores of musicians who have helped make the music what it is. The photography is sensitive and each photograph has been emotionally conceived and executed. Meticulous care has been taken to present each of the twelve songs in their artistic and emotional contexts on individual pages in the booklet, with profound and beautifully-written notes and photographs; a stunning package.
Remarkably this is only the second album by Mr. González. His first album, Habana enTRANCe (Cinquillo, 2007) certainly announced the arrival of another master musician from the fertile musical topography of Cuba, which continues to suggest that it has an almost magical and mystical formula for creating pianists. Although he needed no introduction from older masters such as Chucho Valdés, he got one anyway. However with the explosive start to the album from “Gozando” and the nine other pieces that followed, Mr. González’s music spoke for itself and it seemed that not since Gonzalo Rubalcaba had Cuba produced an artist with such impressive credentials. The Grand Concourse is an enormous development.
From the very (title) The Grand Concourse, an artistic and spiritual portal of sorts, Mr. González beckons us into the deeply spiritual world of Santeria. But the welcome here is unique and it isn’t until “Iyesa Con Miel” with the elemental Lucumi chant by Pedrito Martinez, that one is greeted with something familiar in the way of the Afro-Cuban sprit world. But it is always there, right from the first bars of “Smiling”. It is just that Mr. González has found a new idiom to express what is traditional to him rhythmically. And this is what makes this music so wonderfully unique. This is unlike almost every recent album of Afro-Cuban music, even music by Cuban musicians who visit the same musical ground over and over again, making the evocation of the Lucumi idiom seem laboured.
Mr. González, on the other hand, has invented something wholly new; a sensory experience of epic proportions ensconced in twelve works featuring beautifully crafted arrangements of his own work; a beguiling variety and sensuousness, in every lovingly-crafted phrase of “Moving Forward”, the bittersweet melody of “Blood Brothers” dedicated to his late brother Daymell. Clearly Mr. González’s genius for composition is evocative not only of his tradition, but also for the often-evasive imagery of Jazz. His material focuses on the craftsmanship of the narrative, deeply influenced by his innate spirituality, born of Lucumi worship and this reaches a sublime climax in “Situaciones En 12/8”, rhythmically-sculpted in long, sustained inventions in the West African “bembé” metre.
Mr. González’s musicians include a stellar cast. Yosvany Terry – on alto saxophone and shekere graces several songs as does the fine percussionists and musicians – Pedrito Martinez, Mauricio Herrera, Willy Rodriguez, Paulo Stagnaro, Zack Mullings and many others. Mr. González’s wife and multi-instrumentalist, Tatiana Ferrer can be heard here as well and the elusive, but brilliant reeds and woodwinds player Caris Visentin Liebman also makes a rare appearance on oboe on “Blood Brothers”, which also features the extraordinary String Bembe. Everyone here is completely attuned to Mr. González’s vision and artistry right down to the engineers with enormous ears: Jaclyn Sanchez, Marcos Torres and Willy Torres, and the photographers and exquisite designer, Olivia Solis. This is an album to die for.
Track list – 1: Smiling; 2: Moving Forward; 3: Sencillez; 4: Iyesa Con Miel (feat. Pedrito Martinez & Yosvany Terry); 5: Blood Brothers (feat. String Bembe); 6: Camello Tropical (feat. Nadia Washington); 7: Lovely Time with My Dear; 8: Linear Patterns in Havana (feat. Raul Pineda); 9: Two Makes the Difference; 10: West Coast Exchange; 11: Hand in Hand, You and I; 12: Situaciones En 12/8
Personnel – Dayramir González: Steinway Grand Piano, Fender Rhodes and synthesizers (2, 8, 9) and coro (2, 3, 10, 12); Antoine Katz: electric bass (1, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12); Alberto Miranda: electric bass (2); Carlos Mena: contrabass (3); Zwelakhe Duma-Bell Le Pere: contrabass (5, 7, 9); Zack Mullings: drums (1, 4, 6, 10); Keisel Jimenez Leyva: drums (2); Jay Sawyer: drums (5); Willy Rodriguez: drums (5); Raúl Pineda: drums (8); David Rivera: drums (12); Paulo Stagnaro: congas (1,, 3, 6, 10), batá drums: (6), surdo, cajón, güiro, pandeiro and miscellaneous percussion (1, 5, 7, 8, 9) ; Marcos López: congas (2), timbal (10); Mauricio Herrera: congas (12), batá drums (2); Pedrito Martinez: batá drums (4) and lead vocals (4); Gregorio Vento: miscellaneous percussion and lead vocals (12); Yosvany Terry: alto saxophone (1, 4, 8, 10), shekere (10); Harvis Cuni: trumpet (1); Oriente López: flute (1, 3, 4, 8, 10); Kalani Trinidad: flute (12); Rio Konishi: alto saxophone (12); Dean Tsur: alto saxophone (7), tenor saxophone (1, 4, 8, 10); Edmar Colón: tenor saxophone (12); Ameya Kalamdani: electric and acoustic guitars (1, 6); Tatiana Ferrer: coro (2, 3, 10, 12) and viola (1, 3, 5, 7); Jaclyn Sanchez: coro (2, 3, 10); Nadia Washington: lead vocals (6) and coro (3, 10); Ilmar López Gavilan: violin (1, 3, 5, 7); Audrey Defreytas Hayes: violin (1, 3, 5, 7); Jennifer Vincent: violoncello (1, 3, 5, 7); Caris Visentin Liebman: oboe (5); Amparo Edo Biol: French horn (5)
Released – 2018
Label – Cinquillo
Runtime – 1:13:24
Featured photo of Dayramir González provided by the artist.
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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