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Diego Urcola Quartet ft. Paquito D’Rivera: El Duelo

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Diego Urcola Quartet featuring Paquito DRivera - El Duelo

Featured Album · Editor’s Pick

The juxtaposition of two major musicians – without a piano to bind them harmonically and only a bassist and drummer to keep things warm – can be transformational, which it is in the case of this excursion featuring trumpeter [and flugelhornist] Diego Urcola and alto saxophonist and clarinetist wizard, Paquito D’Rivera. The two musicians really have nothing to prove, but what they achieve with the music on this disc is to illuminate new vantage points on each of the fifteen charts on El Duelo. The proverbial butting of heads works so marvelously that you won’t hear, for instance, the arpeggio-riffs that you may have heard from Mr D’Rivera [not that they aren’t welcome, of course] and neither is Mr Urcola predictable. But it seems that both musicians push each other to take risks with the music, and to stretch in a manner that they might not have felt comfortable doing, were it not for making this kind of musical leap into the unknown.

This is an ambitious venture by any measure, especially so as the brilliance of the musicians and this music is sustained over fifteen pieces. Mr D’Rivera rightly points out in his short introductory note: “the bass, on which you must unleash all your creativity, with more freedom and fewer limitations” is absolutely critical and key to the success of this album. But having too much “freedom” can also mean that the musical daring can come unstuck. None of that happens, of course. As regards the former suggestion, Hamish Smith is not only a proverbial rock, but leads – and often tempts – these musicians where angels fear to tread. Mr Smith also swings magnificently whether he is “walking” or in any other rhythmic mode. To boot, Eric Doob is a master of time himself. Free to go where most musicians wouldn’t dare, Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera make use of this unfettering to create magical shapes and textures.

There is a freshness, fluency and notably expressive quality to this music. Both Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera egg each other on with warmth and mutual respect. They also dare each other and you might be especially wowed by the performances on Ornette Coleman’s “Una Muy Bonita” as well as on Astor Piazzolla’s iconic “Libertango” as the dark beauty of the tango is played with just enough of a hint to make it recognisable, yet with enough daring as to make it almost cheeky. The free-flowing exchange between Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera illustrates both the music’s dark beauty and their own inventiveness in both charts, as it does throughout the other thirteen songs, where each virtuoso plays with typical fluency and sonority. On the latter, Mr Doob also gives us a masterful display of his own virtuosity.

The music is superb out of the gates, with Guillermo Klein’s “El Duelo”. This excellence continues unabated also through Wayne Shorter’s “Sacajawea [Theme]”, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma”, and especially Mr Urcola’s own piece “The Natural” and Benny Golson’s “Stablemates”. And just when you thought that they couldn’t outdo themselves the musicians crown it all with an absolutely brilliant version of Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya” [where Mr Smith really shines] to close out the album. Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera have been in each other’s company for many years now and they have several exquisite albums under their respective belts. However they may not have explored such interesting repertoire before. To be engaged in a thrillingly opulent event is something that most musicians pursue but might luck into once in their career. El Duelo may just be that event for both Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera; an album that nourishes music – as well as body and soul.

Track list – 1: El Duelo; 2: Tango Azul; 3: Una Muy Bonita; 4: La Yumba/Caravan; 5: Pekin; 6: The Natural; 7: Buenos Aires; 8: Foxy Trot; 9: I Know, Don’t Know How; 10: Libertango; 11: Sacajawea [Theme]; 12: Leyenda; 13: Con Alma; 14: Stablemates; 15: Bye-Ya

Personnel – Diego Urcola: trumpet and flugelhorn; Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone and clarinet; Hamish Smith: bass; Eric Doob: drums

Released – 2020
Label – Sunnyside Records [SSC 4560]
Runtime – 1:17:11

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

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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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