Ignacio Berroa has a sense of humour – a bit on the wry side – but a sense of humour nevertheless. Clearly a more than a little of Dizzy Gillespie, with whom Berroa played as a member the United Nations Orchestra, seems to have rubbed off here. Berroa’s little prank here is to call his recording Straight Ahead From Havana, leading one to believe – if one is not careful reading the title – that we’re in for a feast of Afro-Cuban fare. The feast is real, but the music is fierce, swinging Jazz, almost all of which is grounded in 4/4 metrics. And even when he peels away the skin of Martin Bejerano’s ingenious arrangements for the clave to explode, it’s with a twist. So prepare to expect the unexpected Ignacio Berroa for all but one hour.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album
This is wickedly brilliant music and Ignacio Berroa and Martin Bejerano are not extraordinary bedfellows here, but give voice to each other like few drummer/pianist combinations do. Ingenuity is certainly the name of the game and your heart will skip a beat especially on “Negro De Sociedad” which teeters on the brink of a full-frontal Afro-Cuban version of Arturo R. Ojeda’s masterpiece before being bent to Berroa’s will as a Jazz tune Straight Ahead From Havana. Even Rubén Blades seems somewhat caught unawares by the twist given the rhythm by Bejerano before recovering and giving a brilliant account of himself. And that is just the warm-up; things get a little livelier and a lot more complex on Marta Valdés’ “Deja Que Siga Solo”.
This is an intimate group and as such the genius of its component members is right up in your face. It’s a great time to get reacquainted with the majesty of Ignacio Berroa’s drumming prowess. Every component in his set is bent to his will, but without any semblance of a head-bangers ball. Rather one is witness to what can only be described as a performance of silken power and a kind of epic musical theatre where melody taunts rhythm and vice-versa in an interminable give-and-take even as the dramatics involves such disparate sounds as swishing of cymbals, a soaring – almost vocal – snare drum and the thunder of floor-toms, punctuated every now and then by a depth bomb on the bass drum.
If you missed him before, prepare also to be dazzled to the brink of divine madness by Martin Bejerano’s musicianship: not only by his nonpareil pianism that takes both expression and technique to a whole new level. As if that were not enough, even before the dust of a solo settles, you’ll marvel at how much space is between the notes and phrases that tumble out of Bejerano’s palpitating heart and onto his fingers on the keyboard. Hats off to bassist Josh Allen for giving as good as he gets from both Bejerano and Berroa and to Lowell Ringel and “Coky” Garcia as well. And finally spare a kind thought for Jimmy Branly who forsakes his place behind the drumset for the engineering controls to capture the music in a recording of great warmth and character.
Track list: 1: Alma Con Alma; 2: La Tarde; 3: Drume Negrita; 4: No Te Importa Saber; 5: Negro De Sociedad; 6: Deja Que Siga Solo; 7: Los Tres Golpes; 8: Si Me Pudieras Querer; 9: Nuestras Vidas; 10: Me Recordaras
Personnel: Ignacio Berroa: drums, producer; Martin Bejerano: piano; John Allen: upright bass; Lowell Ringel: upright bass (6, 10); Conrado “Coky” Garcia: percussion (5, 7); Ruben Blades: vocal (5); Jimmy Branly: engineer (mixing and mastering); Femio Hernandez: assistant engineer
Label: Codes Drum Music
Run time: 53:54
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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