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JLCO with Wynton Marsalis: Una Noche con Rubén Blades

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JALC with Wynton Marsalis - Una Noche con Rubén

The prospect of Rubén Blades performing with the mighty Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra during the 2014-15 concert season must surely have had music aficionados holding their collective breaths just waiting to get into the venue. As it happens he did not disappoint. Moreover this performance by the celebrated Panamanian vocalist, composer and activist recorded at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Hall on November 15, 2014 is reminiscent of the legendary Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra at Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1966 featuring Quincy Jones’ arrangements which Sonny Burke produced. It is certainly not a stretch – not with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which is at the height of its powers performing this (shortened) repertoire featuring many stellar arrangements by the orchestra’s contrabassist Carlos Henriquez.

Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Una Noche con Rubén Blades

Mr Henriquez was also graciously yielded to microphone by Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis announce the arrival of Mr Blades, a superstar and Muse for the bassist’s generation, growing up in the South Bronx. And that kicks off not simply a live concert, but an extravaganza featuring an hour-long (and then some) feast of music from the Latin-Jazz and American Songbooks. It is a monumental selection of songs that includes not only Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” and Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields’ “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, but also several rousing Latin-Jazz charts beginning with “Ban Ban Quere”. The dramatic twist somewhere in the middle of the recording features an arrangement of “Pedro Navaja” in which Mr Blades not-so-accidentally flips on his activist hat with poignant measures of music from Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera and Leonard Bernstein’s iconic West Side Story (those songs referencing “Mack the Knife” and “America” respectively), but the explosive crescendo during the penultimate medley (especially “El Número 6”) and most certainly comes during Mr Blades’ seminal classic “Patria” which closes the concert.

Clearly Mr Blades, who is celebrated not only for the clutch of awards he has won, is on the top of his game throughout. His tenor voice flows out of his throat like dark velvet and mellifluousness balanced by a touch of metal. He is one of the greatest ever interpreters of patriotic music – of which his own “Patria” dedicated to his homeland of Panama – is a bona-fide classic. His diction is a model, both expressive and crystal clear and like the greatest of vocalists – Sinatra and Nat Cole – he phrases with unforced eloquence, pointing salient words within a liquid legato. His flawless renditions of “Pedro Navaja”, “El Número 6” and, of course, “Patria” are all remarkable examples of this quality – typified by his ability to explode with unbridled joy with ebullient, and also squeeze out his elemental pain with regretful tenderness as he does in those songs.

The recording could well have been dedicated to the great baritone saxophonist and bass clarinetist Joe Temperley, missing at the time of this performance and listed but not on the recording, who passed away not long ago. His big boots and empty chair was ably filled by Paul Nedzela, who solos magnificently on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, right after Ted Nash’s elegant flute solo. Throughout the repertoire Mr Blades also gets extraordinary support from his Latin percussionists and from drummer Ali Jackson as well who finally raise the performance of “Patria” to the rafters. But they are not alone in this regard. Wynton Marsalis pierces through the fabric of the song with a mystical, spine-tingling performance. Other soloists – especially Seneca Black on “Begin the Beguine” and Dan Nimmer, whose prodigious pianism is always one of the highlights of any performance by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – make this one of the finest live recordings ever to come out of New York’s iconic music organisation’s, reaffirming its commitment to upholding the tradition of the music of America.

Track list – 1: Carlos Henriquez Introduction; 2: Ban Ban Quere; 3: Too Close for Comfort; 4: El Cantante; 5: I Can’t Give You Anything but Love; 6: Apóyate en Mi Alma; 7: Pedro Navaja; 8: Begin the Beguine; 9: Sin Tu Cariño; 10: Rubén’s Medley: Ligia Elena/El Número 6/Juan Pachanga; 11: Patria (Encore); Bonus tracks – 12: Don’t Like Goodbyes; 13: Fever; 14: They Can’t Take That Away from Me

Personnel – Rubén Blades: vocals and maracas; Sherman Irby: alto and soprano saxophones; Ted Nash: alto saxophone, flute (solo 5) and piccolo; Victor Goines: tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone (solo 6) and clarinet; Walter Blanding: tenor saxophone; Joe Temperley: baritone saxophone; Paul Nedzela: baritone saxophone (solo 5); Ryan Kisor: trumpet; Kenny Rampton: trumpet (solo 3); Wynton Marsalis: trumpet (solos 1, 11); Vincent Gardner: trombone; Chris Crenshaw: trombone (solo 4); Elliot Mason: trombone; Dan Nimmer: piano (solos 3, 9); Carlos Henriquez: contrabass; Ali Jackson: drums (solo 10); With Special Guests – Eddie Rosando: backing vocals; Bobby Allende: congas (solo 10) and backing vocals; Marc Quiñones: timbales (solo 10) and backing vocals; Carlos Padron: bongos (solo 10) and vocals; Seneca Black: trumpet (solo 8)

Released – 2018
Label – Blue Engine Records (BE 0013)
Runtime – 1:36:40

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.

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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