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Fran Vielma and his Venezuelan Jazz Collective: Tendencias

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Fran Vielma

Fran Vielma could not think of a more provocative name for an album than Tendencias, especially amid the enormous musical output of music emerging from both north and (especially) south America that is either branded “Latin-Jazz” or simply “folkloric”. The fact of the matter is that traditional music from South American countries has continued to evolve ever since colonialism came to the southern part of the continent. Similarly, the music of the United States – Jazz in particular – has and is, by definition open to influences. But Mr. Vielma is suggesting something much more radical in calling his album Tendencias, and even a cursory listen suggests that he has every right to suggest that he’s indeed creating something entirely new with this music.

Fran Vielma and his Venezuelan Jazz Collective: Tendencias
Fran Vielma and his Venezuelan Jazz Collective: Tendencias

The magic lies in the music and here Mr. Vielma begins with a distinct advantage: he is a percussion colourist of great distinction. Clearly also he “hears” music not only from the vantage point of the complex rhythmic patterns that adorn the music of Venezuela; the joropo oriental, a rural form which originated in the llanos, or the gaita zuliana and golpe de patanemo, or even the ones imported such as salsa from the Cuban-American barrio of Harlem. But more significantly and infinitely more attractive is what Mr. Vielma does with the rhythmic patterns in the manner in which he adorns each with melodies and harmonic voices. Here, the percussionist leans heavily on his aptitude for, and particular genius for counterpoint and most of important of all – his understanding of instrumental timbre.

The results are quite remarkable – though no surprise considering Mr. Vielma’s masterful use of tonal colours and textures. And so we hear the breathtaking results all over this album – especially in the arrangement that brings an extraordinary radiance to “Monk En Aragua” a unique interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s own ingenious harmonic conception. Again, that keyboard is used to bring a spectacular sheen to “Hubbardengue” (a song that honours the great Freddie Hubbard); the prancing instrumentation is made even more seductive by Luis Perdomo when his mellifluous playing is crisscrossed with the velvet-sounding muted lines played by Michael Rodríguez on flugelhorn. Speaking of horns, the manner in which Mr. Vielma uses the trombone and the saxophone is also exceptional and he (Mr. Vielma) writes such harmonies that must be played in a manner that suggests their notes are poured into the harmony rather than merely played.

To sustain this molten effect is one of the most memorable experiences of listening to this music. One can’t help but marvel how magically effective this is especially as the horns constantly have to be mixed in with the dry and sharp, stabbing aural palette of Mr. Vielma’s Venezuelan percussion – another reason why this is not just another Latin-Jazz album of songs, but true to its title, a whole new set of Tendencias.

Tracks – 1: Monk En Aragua; 2: Cereal De Bobures; 3: Tendencias; 4: Pasaje Del Olvido; 5: Minanguero; 6: Mis Dos Luces; 7: Hubbardesque; 8: A Modo Patanemeño; 9: Ehlba; 10: Miel De Cayena

Personnel – Fran Vielma: compositions and arrangements, vocals, Venezuelan maracas and drums, cumacos, fulías, clarín, tamborito and mina, djembe, cajón, cymbals and effects, multi-percussion; Michael Rodríguez: trumpet; Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone; Angel Subero: trombone and vocals (2, 5); Luis Perdomo: piano and Fender Rhodes; César Orozco: piano and Fender Rhodes (8, 9); Pablo Bencid: drum-set; Roberto Koch: contrabass; Manolo Mairena: background vocals (2, 5); Jeremy Bosch: vocals (4)

Released – 2018
Label – Papelón Records
Runtime – 1:07:19

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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