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Jeremy Ledbetter’s CaneFire: Pandemonium

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Canefire - Pandemonium

Musical ideas appear to come at the gifted Canadian musician and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Ledbetter from many directions. These cannot always be described as “countries of origin,” but in some Cartesian or even Joycean way are several streams of consciousness that are alive at the same time, jostling for attention in what can only be described as a welcoming crowd. The mind of Charles Mingus was like that every day of his life and he acted upon it by creating music that featured the most abrupt yet amazing changes in rhythm that appeared to come out of nowhere. Sometimes Mr. Mingus said they came from God and he was only a vessel through which the music was channelled. Mr. Ledbetter says no such thing on his wonderful record, Pandemonium, produced and released sometime in 2010, but well worth talking about even today; it is that enduring. The title says it all—although it has also been conceived to suggest a pun on the “pan” in steel-pans that feature prominently in the percussive mix of CaneFire: the group that Mr. Ledbetter fronts. However, this title could just as well include the magnificent mayhem of Afro-Caribbean antecedents with Brasilian candomblé—Afro-Brasilian rhythms used to accompany the dances and songs of the Orixas (Gods) in a ritual, folk or artistic context—with choro and the further mayhem of the music of “El Brujo,” the great sorcerer, Hermeto Pascoal—Afro-Cuban music and a slew of other idioms from Europe, Africa and the Americas.

As serious and deserving of intellectual recognition as the music on this album is, it has its generous moments of sheer entertainment—even puckishness. “The Madman’s Jig” is a sensational opening to the album and for most of time that it lasts is one of the most refreshing charts on the album. But there is also the sublime virtuosity of pianist Jeremy Ledbetter and trumpeter Alexis Baró that remain the extraordinary feature of this music. And then there are the final bars which feature a short burst of the excellent drumming that is to come. Similarly “Trini To The Bone,” a vocal feature for David Rudder, who sings in delightful Trinidadian patois, which might be better understood in a city such as Toronto, but needs little explanation in the joyful nature of its lyric and melody. Here, despite the simple nature of Caribbean rhythms that run deep throughout the song, is a not-so-hidden melodic ingenuity and the beauty of the harmonies that swathe that melody. Some titles might sound somewhat trite, but there is always an inside joke to be had at the expense of some of the cultural anthropology surrounding this music. “Coconuts And Doubles” and “Nothing By Mouth” might seem at odds with the rest of the music when reading the list of titles, but extraordinary things happen when the steel pans and the array of other percussion kick in. On the subject of percussion, it is impossible to tell who brings more to the table—Rosendo “Chendy” León, or Mark Kelso. Both men have hidden rivers of Afro-Caribbean blood coursing through their veins. Mr. Kelso’s work is commendable as he is originally from Ireland, but just what a few years in the multicultural environment of Toronto can do to a person is heard in the astonishing ability of Mr. Kelso to embrace the polyrhythms of the African Diaspora that stretches from that continent to places as far removed as Cuba and Brasil. His fiery work performed with the huge arcs and circular motions of his powerful arms can be heard on “Baptism By Fire” and “The Fountain Of Youth.”

There are also some exciting surprises in the form of Mr. Ledbetter’s exquisite turn at stride piano in “Baptism Of Fire” and the fact that a large part of “The Fountain Of Youth” is dedicated to the sorcery of Hermeto Pascoal, who makes an appearance with his melodica and shows that there is also poetics in music performed through vocalastics involving gargling through a cup of water. And then there is the mesmerising vocals—the canto del namo—sung by Ramón Chipiaje on this chart as it begins and transitions into the wordless soaring lyric of Eliana Cuevas. On “Welcome Home” the mysterious and mystical drumming of the Brasilian candomblé (atabaque) drummer Gabi Guedes ensures that the music takes an absolutely magical turn. For sheer virtuosity there is Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” featured here with an Afro-Caribbean twist. All this gives credence to the fact that this is more than just a beautiful album: More than anything else it is one that is, quite simply, one of the most memorable records to come out of Canada in a long time. The fact that it still sounds fresh and full of surprise years after its initial release is a testament to the enduring nature of its music and for this there is Jeremy Ledbetter to thank effusively.

Track Listing: The Madman’s Jig; Cocoa Payol; Two Cousins; Baptism By Fire; The Fountain Of Youth; Trini To The Bone; Coconuts And Doubles; Welcome Home; Little Bell; Nothing By Mouth; Donna Lee (Goes South); If I Could Sing.

Personnel: Jeremy Ledbetter: piano, melodica, steel pan, percussion, vocals; Mark Mosca: steel pan, percussion, vocals; Alexis Baró: trumpet, flugelhorn; Braxton Hicks: saxophones, vocals; Yoser Rodríguez: bass, vocals; Rosendo “Chendy” León: drums (2, 3, 6 – 12); Mark Kelso: drums (1, 4, 5); Alberto Suárez: percussion, vocals; Hermeto Pascoal: melodica, cup of water (5); David Rudder: lead vocal (6); Eliana Cuevas: vocals (5, 6); Gabi Guedes: atabaque (8); Ramón Chipiaje: canto del namo (5); Andy Phillips: percussion (6, 9); Riley Moore: vocals (6); Leila Ledbetter: heartbeat (3), lead vocal (12).

Label: Self-Produced
Release date: May 2010
Website: canefire.ca
Buy Canefire’s music: amazon

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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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.

Deo gratis…

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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