A fierce energy leaps out of the opening notes of Mama Ina, the exquisitely-crafted debut album by the prodigiously-gifted bassist Gastón Joya. It is the song after which the album gets its title and Mr Joya hasn’t even begun to express his extraordinary genius. For that one has to wait for “No Te Empeñes Más” and soon after, “El Día Que Me Quieras” on both of which the young bassist picks up his magnificent sounding contrabass. Primary colours abound in the beautiful woody textures with rhythms and phrasing that are pristine, precise and alert that strips the gravitas of the music down to an almost nude depth and transparency of texture. Through it all Mr Joya keeps the music moving with balletic grace and a vividness that spotlights the musical canvas of each of the songs in a mighty, painterly fashion taking us to another world.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Gastón Joya: Mama Ina
“Mama Ina” not only displays the kind of edge-of-the-seat virtuosity that we are soon to discover (if we had not witnessed this from Mr Joya already from his work with superstars such as Chucho Valdés and Harold López-Nussa) takes an elegiac turn immediately after the elegant work by drummer Marcos Morales and the beautifully forlorn guitar work by Man Son Fong. But the incandescent work by the bassist moves into high-gear immediately thereafter. Mr Joya’s playing just seems to leap along from one high point to the next with an apparently effortless distinction between the many filigree lines that he seems to create from one solo to the next. He is also a master of mood and atmosphere, with the ability to coordinate colour and structure to a rare degree.
Mr Joya’s accompanying musicians – pianist Adrián Esteves, drummer Marcos Morales, guitarist Nam Son Fong and trumpeter Julito Padrón also bring something special to this music. But the bassist is the star. To my mind it is the precision of his attack and the articulation of his pizzicato that sets him apart as he brings a juicy brilliance to this music. Moreover, as Mr Joya moves on from one chart to the next he seems to grow in stature with a virtuosity that enables him to tackle this programme with some of the most riveting and volcanic display of playing on the contrabass one might hope to listen to from someone so young and relatively inexperienced. In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of its characterisation and the exceptional range and refinement of his bass playing Mr Joya imparts a power and grandeur to every song on this excellent record.
Track list – 1: Mama Ina; 2: No Te Empeñes Más; 3: El Día Que Me Quieras; 4: La Gitana; 5: Ask Me; 6: Impori; 7: Venga la Esperanza; 8: Paola y Lila; 9: La Sitiera
Personnel – Gastón Joya: contrabass and electric basses, and voice; Adrián Esteves: piano; Marcos Morales: drums; Nam Son Fong : guitars; Julito Padrón: trumpet
Released – 2018
Label – UNICORNIO Producciones Abdala S.A.
Runtime – 50:07
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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