Reviewing music can be a vexing experience. Often recordings that bode well on paper disappoint somewhat in reality. And then there are those where exquisite performances are marred by the poor engineering quality. However, on rare occasions a recording comes by the desk in your listening room where everything comes together beautifully resulting in a thrillingly opulent special event that literally makes you gasp for breath; not because you are fatigued but because literally everything you listen to seems effortlessly and intuitively right. This album – Puertos – Music From International Waters – by Emilio Solla and his Tango Jazz Orchestra is one of those recordings; a recording so superb that you could envision conversations about orchestral music beginning with , “Yes, but have you heard Solla’s latest…?”
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Not surprising at all for aficionados, you might add, because among this musical tribe Mr Solla is recognised as the poet of orchestral sound. He more than proves it here with repertoire that has been re-imagined for an earlier time in his career, as well as some newer pieces. 17 (+5) musicians work as one to make this music soar on mystical flights and journeys following Mr Solla through his worlds, at once zealous, reflective and transcendent. Each and every work is a gleaming gem, the one whetting your appetite for another as they unfold from Mr Solla’s pen onto paper, from where the individuals in soli and as an ensemble make the black dots leap off the page and pirouette in the air of your room joyfully spinning the tales that Mr Solla would have you follow as if mesmerised.
Each song comes with a rich fund of melody, its wealth increasing exponentially because Mr Solla’s writing abounds in poignant lines and dramatic flourishes for the interweaving instruments. And while Mr Solla approaches composition with an acute sense of the profound metaphor, he also brings a childlike playfulness to music. This seems to sometimes begin with the title itself – as in the case of his opening chart, “Sol La, Al Sol”, which is a play on his name and the sun, all of this in turn, bathed in a energy of the hot star itself.
With “Llegará, Llegará, Llegará” he travels spiritually to Montevideo where the colourful elegance of the port city is evoked in wave after wave of rolling rhythm of the candombe broken by John Ellis’ soaring tenor saxophone solo and an eloquent piano solo by Arturo O’Farrill to which Mr Solla adds interesting banter in a closing coda. Elsewhere the inimitable Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda breathes vivacious life into “Allegrón”.
We are reminded throughout the repertoire of Mr Solla’s lapidary musicianship. And this is reflected, in the (Gabriel) Fauré -like radiance that pervades his harmonic invention. “La Novena” is a perfect example of this ability to bring out the individual tone-textures of each of the horns in a manner that makes them stand out as well as meld into a contiguous whole. It’s a rapturous gem that pays tribute to the Buenos Aires of Mr Solla’s early years as a musician before he sailed abroad for Spain and later turned around to settle in the United States after a decade under the Iberian sun, glorified here in “Andan Luces” where the great Pablo Aslan delights both in his solo -which includes a fanciful flight played pizzicato- something we don’t often hear from the bassist.
Romanticism is in full bloom in this song. The orchestral gear changes in this piece literally bringing a human structure to the work as Mr Solla’s arrangement encourages his ensemble – led here by Julien Labro’s bandoneon solo – to phrase (almost) personally and vocally. As is so often the case in orchestral music, where Romanticism is concerned, where yearning and rapture could easily be taken for granted, there is nothing of the sort here. In Mr Solla’s works, sonic extravagances and the ready flow of descriptive melody have a clear sense of purpose and this is, in fact, to narrate events served by his vivid memories with a clear sense of their epic nature.
This seems to be a perfect fit for the theme of this recording, which tells of voyages from shore to shore and port to port, with him always as the Odysseus, challenged by the adventure of it all, although never stricken by the kind of ill-fate of the mythological adventurer. In place (of the Grecian’s tragedies) we find fabulously happy sojourns in the works’ structural mastery revealed on the intermingling and transforming of lived experience into orchestral settings.
Through it all we meet a composer and orchestrator who lives to create music of considerable intensity albeit not without amiability that permits accessibility to musicians to interpret his scores, ornamenting them, with personal stories of their own. We also meet a well-travelled storyteller who remains besotted with his beloved Argentina so much so that the tango lives and breathes like a proverbial heroic creature in all of his music – sometimes dancing for all to perceive and at other times lurking in the background, cheering the improvising musicians on, a happy ubiquitous ghost whose presence may be hinted at with rapturous delight as we undertake epic journeys travelling together through a myriad of worlds with the composer and orchestrator: Emilio Solla.
This album is a 21st Latin Grammy Awards Winner for Best Latin Jazz / Jazz Album
Track ‘La Novena’ is a 62nd Grammy Awards Nominee for Best Arrangement, Instrumental
Emilio Solla, arranger (Emilio Solla Tango Jazz Orchestra)
Track list – 1: Sol La, Al Sol; 2: Llegará, Llegará, Llegará; 3: Chakafrik; 4: La Novena; 5: Four For Miles; 6: Allegrón; 7: Andan Lucas; 8: Buenos Aires Blues.
Personnel – Alejandro Aviles: flutes; Todd Bashore: flutes and clarinet; Tim Armacost: tenor saxophone, alto flute and clarinet; John Ellis: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet and flute; Terry Goss: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; Alex Norris: trumpet and flugelhorn; Jim Seeley: trumpet and flugelhorn; Jonathan Powell: trumpet and flugelhorn; Noah Bless: trombone; Mike Fahie: trombone; Eric Miller: trombone; James Rodgers: bass trombone; Julien Labro: bandoneon and accordion; Emilio Solla: piano and conducting; Pablo Aslan: bass; Ferenc Nemeth: drums. With Guests – Samuel Torres: congas (1); Arturo Prendez: percussion (2); Franco Pinna: bombo legüero (6); Arturo O’Farrill: piano (2); Edmar Castañeda: harp (6).
Released – 2019
Record Label – Avantango Records (AR005)
Runtime – 1:11:24
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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