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Fernando García: Guasábara Puerto Rico

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Fernando García

It might seem easy to be mesmerised and swept away by the ceaseless dancing of Puerto Rican music from one odd time signature to another. And in the best of its exponents of rhythm – drummers such as Fernando García, for instance – there is a dazzling, seemingly never-ending variety of these that are trotted out on Guasábara Puerto Rico. But each becomes more meaningful in the drummer’s hands as his extraordinary recital on this disc unfolds. And even as the quality of his playing is altogether exceptional here it seems that he takes nothing for granted as he lays down one complex tattoo after the other. Nor should we take anything for granted in listening to him. Not that he does anything too wildly idiosyncratic, let alone provocatively iconoclastic. At the same time he clearly lets us know that he plainly understands this is no virtuoso show of force, but plainly one possibility of expressing the fascinating nature of Afro-Caribbean music through the Puerto Rican eyes of an expert young musician.

Fernando García: Guasábara Puerto Rico
Fernando García: Guasábara Puerto Rico

This is a very spiritual experience from the musicians’ point of view and it is possible for us to be drawn into its fascinating world if we allow ourselves to be taken into another unexpected world. Rhythmic revelations abound everywhere, especially in the grand, spacious “Healing Prayer”. In the bembé rhythms embedded in virtually all of the music – especially in the expertly navigation through tradition on “Guaynabo Mi Tambor” and the roaring finale of “Tiempo” – Mr. García is particularly alluring. Forget all the notions you ever had about the world Puerto Rican polyrhythms. In Mr. García’s hands it is revealed as a world full of glimmering light and enigmatic shadows; a world of mysterious depths, expectations, frustrations, hopes and doubts, not unlike the reality more than 200-days after the devastation of Maria and the extent of inhuman neglect of the current Federal regime. It’s not so quietly stated, but yet in the most artistically beckoning terms.

And the variety and stylishness of music such as that on the aptly entitled “Guasábara Puerto Rico” and the rest of this enterprising programme is matched, note for note, phrase for phrase in the breathless styling of the music of the rest of this repertoire. Throughout the disc Mr. García, together with musicians who are remarkably attuned to his vision and artistry, brings an urbanity and lyricism to all of these seductive, rhythm-driven works. Each contribution by the musicians is offered with buoyant, aristocratic grace and psychological ambiguity and with an almost insolently effortless and debonair virtuosity and swagger. Most of all we are drawn into this music by the sassy, stunning swing with which Mr. García introduces us to his secrets, evocations by a drummer that goes into a realm where few of his generation will even dare to venture.

Track list – 1: Audubon; 2: Ideas Convergentes; 3: Guasábara Puerto Rico; 4: Healing Prayer; 5: The Element; 6: Guaynabo Mi Tambor; 7: Se Va; 8: Tiempo

Personnel – Fernando García: drums and vocals (6); Dan Martínez: contrabass and electric bass (8); Gabriel Chakarji: piano; Gabriel Vicéns: guitar; Jan Kus: tenor saxophone; Victor Pablo: barril and congas; with special guest – Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone (3)

Released – 2018
Label – ZOHO Music
Runtime – 51:17

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.

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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