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Jorge Luis Pacheco: The Lockdown Album

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Jorge Luis Pacheco
Pianist, Composer, Arranger Jorge Luis Pacheco

In a couple of months, we will turn the bend to 2024. The thought does arise: Hadn’t we better leave the pandemic and its horrors in the rearview mirror? And with it, things like the nightmare off the lockdown? However, it is especially true – at least when it comes to the lockdown – that scores of peoples’ livelihoods were severely curtailed because of all the above. Few experienced more upheaval than recording and performing artists like Jorge Luis Pacheco, whose ability to earn a living ground to a screeching halt overnight – not to mention the fact that it stayed that way for almost two years.

In the case of Mr Pacheco, however, listening [this late] to how he turned despair into triumph musically – and emotionally speaking – is nothing short of miraculous. This scintillating hour-long disc – The Lockdown Album – is dazzling from end to end. From the iconic Compay Segundo classic Chan-Chan, which evokes the darkness of solitariness at the beginning, then turning ever so gradually towards light is – in its dreaminess – simply one of the most fabulous openings to a set. Ever. Not the least because nothing can prepare you – even if you know the next monumental piece by Frederic Chopin – for the Revolutionary Etude, and not because of its frenzied, monumental melodic and harmonic architecture, but because of the brilliant, almost insolent virtuosity with which Mr Pacheco makes it his own.

Jorge Luis Pacheco: The Lockdown Album
Jorge Luis Pacheco: The Lockdown Album

Sviatoslav Richter has played one of the purest versions of this work, Vladimir Horowitz with his genius for everything Chopin and his attack has performed perhaps the mightiest rendition. Mr Pacheco’s rendition reveals his mastery of two idiomatic languages – the one in which Chopin wrote [i.e., the ‘Romantic/Classical’ one] and Mr Pacheco’s own deeply interiorised [Afro-Cuban] idiom. From its turbulent Chopinesque first part, which brims with furious cascades of musical divine madness, with double notes and grand arpeggios and one hyperactive virtuoso gesture after another.

The naughty capering continues as Mr Pacheco turns his di-optic visionary attention to the Afro-Cuban interpretation of the Revolutionary Etude as he is joined in by virtuoso bassist Helmut Reuter and the brilliant drummer Thomas Hempel. There is ample reason to regard the performance of this work not only as one of the most inventive, but also – for all the reasons mentioned above – as one of the best versions even if it veers away from Chopin’s script when Mr Pacheco turns it into an Afro-Cuban idiomatic performance.

If you thought that this might just be the apogee of the album [certainly in my view], there is more to come in the form of Ludwig van Beethoven’s celebrated final movement of his epic 9th Choral SymphonyOde An Die Freude. The unforced manner of the grandiosity and at times, fragile music is stunning. In the most robust passages of the work, with its delicate pizzicato pedal notes, it is refreshing to hear all the detail that Mr Pacheco brings out in his version of the work. Registrations of theme and gestures are beautifully balanced throughout, and the pleno, while thrilling, isn’t overbearing. There is fizz and sparkle in all the right places and just enough warmth in the bass. If you blink you might almost miss the brilliant touch of the faux chorale provided by The Twäng.

The performance is not all about grandiosity and vaunted ornamentation. Mr Pacheco knows exactly when to put his virtuoso pianism to work emphasizing pianissimo passagework and that is clear to see in his breakout soli on La Conga, and – especially on the next truly astounding musical accompaniment to William Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 18. The pianist’s glorious restraint makes way for the spotlight to be put exactly where it should be – on the lustrous voice of Anna Rabea Pacheco, who turns the poet’s lyric into something heart-stoppingly memorable.

At first blush, the Bee Gees song How Deep is Your Love may sound out of place, but it certainly isn’t. This is music to get the artist and his beloved through the loneliness of the lockdown, after all. And the aching beauty of Ms Pacheco’s vocal is once again a reminder that she is – with her feather-light voice – an artist of the first order. You might also almost forget the racy missive To Oscar, which seems to me to be a perfectly climactic finale to an utterly brilliant album.  

If there is one thing I would wish for this recording, it would be more careful attention to separating the thunder of the Mr Hempel’s bass drum and Mr Reuter’s dark, rumbling bass. It doesn’t mar this brilliant music but makes it a little difficult to listen to – and enjoy – the music at high volume, which is how it should be enjoyed. It would also enhance the poignancy of Mr Pacheco’s fortissimos and pianissimos which play out so subtly in this music that you ascend to a rarefied realm just by playing – and, indeed, enjoying – large chunks of his music over and over again. Even with this engineering flaw [and even my acoustic tiles didn’t help much] this is still an album to die for.

Deo gratis…

YouTube Playlist – Jorge Luis Pacheco: The Lockdown Album

Music – 1: Chan-Chan; 2: Revolutionary Etude; 3: La Conga; 4: How Deep is Your Love; 5: Ode an Die Freude; 6: 705 y Medio; 7: Sonnet 18; 9: To Oscar.

Musicians – Jorge Luis Pacheco: piano, synthesizer, and voice; Helmut Reuter: bass; Thomas Hempel: drums; Anna Rabea Pacheco: voice [5, 7]; The Twäng: chorus [5].

Released – 2022
Label – ropedope [RAD 667]
Runtime – 1:00:37

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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