As with all the previous albums of Harold López-Nussa, this Mack Avenue recording El Viaje attests to the young pianist’s remarkable technical polish and command, as well as his cultivated, highly creative interpretations of music.
A case in point concerns ‘Me Voy Pa’ Cuba’ – both the opening version and the improvised chart at the end of the album. Here the brilliant young pianist’s more direct ebb and flow, detached articulations and subtle harmonic stresses are conveyed with admirable economy. While the improv tapered phrase endings tiny breath pauses and occasional note elongations, together with suave and more rounded phrases, make for a more angular, free-spirited sound.
Harold López-Nussa manipulates his gorgeously-tuned concert to magical effect. Treating the keyboard with utmost respect he luxuriates in the stylish timbre and tonally rich resources of an instrument that seems to have been prepared for his lithe fingers. The pianist’s scrupulous voice-leading and balances between the hands are present throughout the variations in the African themed music. The polyrhymic evocations on ‘Mozambique En Mi B’ are animated and spontaneous. However, the petulant arpeggios on ‘Africa’ inspire greater dynamism and thrust. ‘El Viaje’ engages in gentle yet shapely dialogues between hands and of the other compositions by the pianist, ‘Oriente’ manages to be rhythmically assertive and debonair at the same time. For darker, dynamic touch and octave transpositions try ‘D’ Una Fábula’. And ‘Inspiración En Connecticut’ is more understated and transversal, with a solid left-hand underpinning ends up providing a lilting anchor to its melody-oriented reading.
Editor’s Pick · Album of the Month · Harold López-Nussa: El Viaje
Harold López-Nussa’s telepathic relationship with his brother and drummer Rui Adrián López-Nussa has been the highlight of all of the music he has made so far. Most times they appear joined at the hip, with the drummer echoing in rhythmic terms what the pianist proposes in melodic ones. And just when you thing they might get too comfortable, they switch roles, with Harold López-Nussa striking a percussive pose and Rui Adrián López-Nussa slipping into a masterful, melodic one. On his last album, Habana Paris-Dakar the pianist first teamed up with the Senegalese bassist and heavenly-voiced falsetto, Alune Wade. The trio worked so successfully that Wade has reappeared on El Viaje raising their musicianship to an altogether rarefied realm. They have also brought in star guests: drummer and the brothers’ father Ruy Francisco López-Nussa, trumpeter Mayquel González and percussionists Dreiser Durruthy and Adel González, and this album is now in pianophile heaven.
Track List – Me Voy Pa’ Cuba; Africa; Feria; Lobo’s Cha; Bacalao Con Pan; El Viaje; Mozambique En Mi B; D’ Una Fábula; Inspiración En Connecticut; Oriente; Improv (Me Voy Pa’ Cuba).
Personnel – Harold López-Nussa: piano, vocals; Rui López-Nussa: drums, percussion, vocals; Alune Wade: bass, vocals; Ruy Francisco López-Nussa: drums; Máyquel González: flugelhorn, trumpet; Dreiser Durruthy: tambores batá, vocals; and Adel González: percussion.
Released – September 2016
Label – Mack Avenue Records
Runtime – 54:30
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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