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Jerry González and Miguel Blanco Big Band: Tribute to the Fort Apache Band

Jerry Gonzalez’s Fort Apache Band was probably one of the last, most iconic ensembles to come out of New York, via the ether of Puerto Rico. Few bands would boast the fire of a trumpet cast…

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*Editor’s note: as noted by Jerry González on a Facebook post, Fort Apache Band has never been disbanded as the writer states on this review. They’ve been active throughout all these years. They recorded Rumba Buhaina in 2003 and Blue Note will eventually release their latest record. In 2014 Fort Apache played at the San Jose Jazz Fest, Miami International Jazz Festival, Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and Taichung Jazz Festival. We thank Jerry González for the clarification.

Jerry Gonzalez’s Fort Apache Band was probably one of the last, most iconic ensembles to come out of New York, via the ether of Puerto Rico. Few bands would boast the fire of a trumpet cast against the ethereal beauty of piano and the ferocious rhythm of bass dancing in and out of the conga and the drums. For that was how it felt to listen to trumpeter and conga player Jerry González almost lay siege to the breathtaking, quintessence of Larry Willis’ piano. This exquisite polyphony was inexorably rooted in the polyrhythms of Andy González’s bass and in Steve Berrios’ drums, and Jerry González’s own congas that daubed a range of wonderful percussion colours to the musical canvas. It was an irreparable loss when the Fort Apache Band was disbanded, presumably because it had simply run its course, and when Jerry González decided to drop anchor in Madrid, Spain. New York’s loss was Madrid’s gain. Mr. González was not inactive there. He began to perform again with a new group of musicians and fortuitously came into contact with the wonderfully talented Miguel Blanco, a musician, arranger and bassist. Mr. Blanco has proved that his association with Jerry González has been one that is extremely fruitful. In 2012 Mr. Blanco and Mr. González got together to make a spectacular large ensemble record: Music for Big Band.

The year 2014 has seen this unique partnership come together to produce another big band record. However, this time the record is a gorgeous tribute to the Mr. González’s old musical legion. The result is A Tribute to the Fort Apache Band. It is a recording in which Miguel Blanco has undertaken to re-write the Fort Apache charts as an analogue to the original; a journey to the centre of the Fort Apache world taking a digressive walk around, and inside Jerry González’s material to rediscover themes of joy with an ebullience that is truly magnificent. The music does not disappoint, with the contrasting shades and textures that re-discover the youthful character and buoyancy of the originals. Miguel Blanco is a superb writer. He has re-created here music that is sinuous and sustained in which the articulation remains adequately plush to allow the music to shine through as the art it was. It drives the music of the Fort Apache Band and their musical ideas with the kind of conviction that makes it difficult to turn off the disc without listening from beginning to end, again and again. All of this wonderful music has something else going for it. Jerry González makes a grand appearance on the record, stoking the fires that already burn on it with the majesty of a zealot. Mr. González’s horns are a veritable force of nature as he uses phrases to soar above the vaunted melismas of the music. Mr. González’s conga-playing is iconic too. The earthiness and splendour of its African-ness again sets fire to the music, ensuring that the embers crackle and thunder with devastating beauty, and egg the rest of the band on to explore harmonic and rhythmic narratives as never before.

The choice of material is a mix of old Fort Apache Band charts made wholly new. Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” is absolutely sensational. But it is the sinewy beauty of “Agüeybaná” that is striking and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The splendid rhythmic splendour dances around the soaring harmonies of the song to make it one of the most memorable tracks on the album. While the playing of the band is superb throughout, somehow the machismo of Javier Colina’s playing stands out like a spectacular sentinel on the album. Marc Miralta, who enlivened the ensembles of that other ineffable Spaniard, Chano Domínguez, also brings his magnificent playing to this album. But it is ultimately not personalities, but the relationship of all of the members of the band and molten mix forged on the anvils of a magical blacksmith that give the extraordinary character to this album. Everything this big band has to throw at these pieces shows them to their best advantage—fleet-footed propulsion, tongue-in-groove intonation and ensemble, and a sense of momentum that always drives the music in the right direction. The definitive set of Fort Apache Band music is now complete.

Track List – Agüeybaná (feat. Daniel Aldama & Ariel Brínguez); Eighty One (feat. Rafa Águila & Javier Massó “Caramelo”); Earthdance (feat. Dani Juárez); Let’s Call This (feat. Israel Sandoval & Luis Verde); Ugly Beauty (feat. Albert Sanz); Footprints (feat. Javier Colina); Rumba Y Consecuencia (feat. Luis Guerra & Norman Hogue); Sueños Vampíricos (feat. Israel Sandoval & Marc Miralta)

Personnel – Jerry González: trumpet and congas; Miguel Blanco: Musical Director; Javi Martinez “Martintxo”: trumpet; Carlos Rossi: trumpet; Norman Hogue: trombone; Santi Cañada: trombone; Luis Verde: alto and soprano saxophones; Dani Juárez: tenor saxophone and flute; Ariel Brínguez: tenor saxophone and flute; Sergio Bienzobas: baritone saxophone; Israel Sandoval: guitar; Albert Sanz: piano; Toño Miguel: contrabass; Jesús Catalá: percussion; Marc Miralta: drums; Daniel Aldama: percussion; Javier Massó “Caramelo”: piano; Luis Guerra: piano; Javier Colina: contrabass; Rafa Águila: saxophone

Released – 2014
Label – Youkali Music
Runtime – 54:43

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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