The album Front Street Duets played by the great Hilario Durán and his one-time acolyte, David Virelles is a sublime recording. It is one that only Mr Durán could have conceived of. Why? It is not impossible to perceive that, more and more [certainly after the earth-shatteringly divisive pandemic] Mr Durán has turned himself inward, into a secret – and sacred – space, into which artists often withdraw. Equally, it is not so shocking to find that when he opened the proverbial door into that space, he would admit a musician of the fulsome abilities – literally 360° all-round kind of musicianship – that characterises a former acolyte, Mr Virelles – formerly speaking only because Mr Virelles has grown his own pair of sinewy eagle wings to become a high-flier in his own right – holding court with the likes of Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill, Andrew Cyrille, Ravi Coltrane…
A piano duet recording of this high calibre is not without precedence. One has only to think of the two legendary [!] recordings – both duets performed by Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. What characterised those recordings were the long, sculpted inventions of both pianists that had audiences held in suspended animation somewhere between gasping for breath and experiencing what cardiologists would surely diagnose as cardiac arrhythmia [one at Montreux comes easily to mind]. I should know as I am held exactly so every time I listen to those recordings.
But the virtuosity of these two pianists is of a very different kind. There is no bending of phrases; elongating the choicest one that formed the melodic heart of each piece – and it was always announced as if by a flesh-biting arrow that pierced the senses and propelled the music of Mr Corea and Mr Hancock. Mr Durán’s virtuosity comes from an imaginary interior landscape [of his mind], somewhere between Baroque and Bebop. Thus he usually cannot be restrained from decorative imagery that adorns his narratives [“Santos Suarez’s Memories” is a fine example of this]. But no matter how he adorns he never loses the “heart” of the melody, its emotional epicentre and harmonics and rhythms that propels the music after that climax is reached.
Mr Virelles is one of the greatest young apostles of Afro-Cuban musical tradition, but he has always known that the inner dynamic of tradition is always to innovate, rather than be imprisoned by its structures. And so by actively pursuing this thesis he has managed to throw overboard melodic, structural, harmonic, and [because this is Afro-Cuban music we are talking about] rhythmic hooks that expressively blunted the music through overuse. And so Mr Virelles’ special kind of virtuosity will manifest itself as he builds from what might – or might not – be left of melody, harmony and rhythm inside Afro-Cuban music.
The unique virtuosity informs his arrangements [pursued by both pianists] but especially in Mr Virelles’ playing on Alejandro García Caturla’s composition “Danza Lucumí” and Calixto Varona’s “La Malanga”. Both songs unveil not only the differences in the voices of both Mr Virelles, but also in the magic manner in which Mr Durán presents his interpretation of the works. And this speaks to the kind of magic that separates this piano duet recording from every other one you may have heard – including those legendary ones by Mr Corea and Mr Hancock.
As an important sidenote: It should not go unnoticed that everytime Mr Durán has decided to put his music down on tape, Peter Cardinali [the Alma Records supremo] and John “Beetle” Bailey have always been there to capture it in all its sublime glory. The fact that this time it includes Mr Virelles too, suggests that nothing like this is likely to happen in a long time to come.
Tracks – 1: Guajira for Two Pianos; 2: Challenge; 3: Punto Cubano #1; 4: Danza Lucumí; 5: La Malanga; 6: Milonga for Cuba [Dedicated to 7/11]; 7: Santos Suarez’s Memories; 8: David’s Tumbao; 9: Body and Soul
Musicians – Hilario Durán and David Virelles: pianos
Released – 2022
Label – Alma Records [ACD10132]
Runtime – 41:27
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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