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Eliana Cuevas Presents: Espejo

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With her album Espejo the Venezuelan-born singer/songwriter Eliana Cuevas is somewhat deeper into her life as a musician. It is clear from the music on this album that Ms. Cuevas has matured considerably since her 2002 debut Cohesión. The singer is more self-assured, as she digs deeper into her soul and, as a result, it is clear that she now writes music that is more complex and makes fuller use of the folk music of Venezuela with greater intellect; in subtler ways both rhythmically as well as in terms of the rich and undulating melodic inventions that it is known for. Moreover Ms. Cuevas can be heard here to sing not so much within a zone that she is merely comfortable with, but as she pushes herself to capture the music with a greater sense of urgency and with a great deal more nervous energy. She is also in touch with the spirit realm where she appears to navigate with sublime femininity as well as with a certain shamanistic zeal.

Of course while pushing herself beyond such limits as she is seen to have done here Ms. Cuevas has had to make certain musical decisions that have made the album under review somewhat all-inclusive. Consider: Ms. Cuevas has pushed her skills to the limit. As a result she seems to have ended up fusing some elements of popular music into what would have been simply beautiful music that should have stood on its own, basking in its wonderful folkloric rhythms. “Estrellita” is one such song. It begins with an intricate melody interwoven into an equally complex rhythm, but then loses itself in what becomes a bit of pop over-kill, especially in the middle eight of the song when the changes become a bit simplistic. However, Ms. Cuevas quickly picks herself up and delivers a stellar performance in the elegiac “En Un Pedacito De Tu Corazón”. The song is exquisitely paced and Ms. Cuevas’ voice rises and falls in oceanic waves as she breathes an elemental sadness into the melody, which pirouettes in ever-widening circles around the hypnotic rhythm and the tantalising harmony of the keyboards.

The high point Ms. Cuevas’ vocalastics comes immediately thereafter in wave after wave of near-perfect music. Beginning with the ballad, “Nacerá” Ms. Cuevas shows herself to have a deep and almost umbilical connection to seemingly all South American music (the Brazilian foray here is palpable and divinely executed with touching affectation). Ms. Cuevas then continues her Latin odyssey with another superlative (melding of Venezuelan and Brazilian maracatú and marcha) performance in “Llegó”. All of the singer’s brilliance comes together in the breathtaking scatting of “El Tucusito”. It is in this song that the full impact of Ms. Cuevas’ vocal range as well as her true ingenuity shines through. The absolute brilliance of her control and expression as she races through the joropo is without compare. So wonderful is her performance that she almost surpasses the ingenuity of the melodic content of the song, which is owed to pianist Jeremy Ledbetter. Ms. Cuevas work is framed by an equally wonderful cuatro break by the matchless Aquiles Báez.

It is in the realm of music profoundly touched by her folk roots that Ms. Cuevas really outdoes herself. Her vocal gymnastics is not only on display with the speed and dexterity with which she executes the vocal (in the case of “El Tucusito,”) but also in the depth of her reading of the lyric (as in songs such as “Llegó” and “Nacerá”). Elsewhere Ms. Cuevas shows that she has the power to hold her own with the various textures and timbres of horns—both brass and the softer woodwinds—(on “Agua”), as well as when the arrangements call for strings (on “Lamento”). Despite its pop appeal, Espejo is a wonderful revelation of the artistry of Eliana Cuevas. It is indeed a wonderful reflection of her expressive musicality as well as the depth of her spirituality and soulfulness.

Tracks: Estrellita; En Un Pedacito De Tu Corazón; Nacerá; Llegó; El Tucusito; Lamento; Agua, Cangrejo Y Sal; Nueva Vida; Melancolía; Antito.

Personnel: Eliana Cuevas: lead and background vocals; Jeremy Ledbetter: piano, melodica, keyboards, Fender Rhodes; mandolin, recorder, percussion; Mark Kelso: drums, percussion; Daniel Stone: percussion (1, 4, 8, 10); George Koller: bass (1, 5, 6, 8, 9); Ross MacIntyre: bass (3, 7); Rich Brown: bass (4, 10); Yoser Rodriguez: bass (2); Aquiles Báez: cuatro (5, 10); Manuel Rangel: maracas (5); Alexander Brown: flugelhorn (1); Luiz Deniz: alto saxophone (3); Alexis Baró: trumpet (7); Scott Metcalfe: soprano saxophone (7); Chris Butcher: trombone (7); Diego Las Heras: drum programming (2); Aleksander Gajic: violin (6); Jennifer Burford: violin (6); Ivan Ivanovich: viola (6); Mateusz Swoboda: cello (6) Leila Ledbetter: guest vocals (10).

Label: Eliana Cuevas Music
Release date: April 2013
Website: elianacuevas.com
Buy Eliana Cuevas’ music: amazon

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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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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