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‘Papiosco’ and Iroko Project: Ancestral

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It seems both significant and appropriate that the eminent rumbero, Jorge Luis Torres Paumier “Papiosco” should choose the iconic “Iroko” tree as the title for his maiden project as leader. It is, after all more than a mere “African hardwood” from the forests of Ouidah, Benin. The Iroko is sacred to the Yoruba people; an Orisha related to the wishes and here is where it becomes both auspicious and iconic. For when Papiosco was an elegant child of 10 years, his mentor Tata Güines introduced him at the Karl Marx Theatre in Havana as the musician chosen to be his successor—a rare privilege from the elder and legendary rumbero indeed. Though “Papiosco” fulfilled the promise a long time ago—through “Cubanismo” and through Pablo Milanés, Omara Portuondo and Chucho Valdés and then in Canada with various ensembles especially with Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana—his next big moment had to wait until now, when he has finally undertaken his maiden voyage with his Iroko Project and Ancestral, an homage to years past echoing with homage to those gone by—musicians and dear ones. Here he also has to good fortune to work with trumpeter and producer extraordinaire, Larry Cramer and a truly gifted musical director: the bassist, Roberto Riverón Mederos.

Gone are the slender hands of the 10-year-old; “Papiosco’s” fully-grown hands are now large and well-seasoned by years of beating the skin of the congas. But he still elicits exquisite sounds from the massive set of African oriented drums as well as the timbales and the bongos. There are times when he seems merely to brush his fingers across the congas as if caressing the taut skin of a woman, full of love and sensuality. At other times there are echoes of his great “ancestor” and mentor, the great Tata Güines as the younger man, with cupped hands makes notes shudder and thump elegantly; or he might scratch the skins, or slap them and rap on them with rapidly thrumming fingers. At every turn, something new and exciting is always unfolding; tumbling as if from a seemingly great mountainous height from where the Iroko is venerated, ever cognizant of the rumberos who went ahead of him to Valhalla. “Papiosco’s” drumming is highly emotional too. Every glancing blow of conga or bongo comes from the deepest recesses of his heart as he pays homage to the Orishas from the land of his birth as if urging them to consider the musician’s every wish.

The music on this recording harks to the various dimensions of this worshipful aspect of music while sounding chords of joy as well. These charts feature many forms of music—both generated by sketches that bloom into the elaborate Descarga, some of which—like “Timbaloque” on which “Papiosco” plays a battery of percussion—feature the main protagonist, while others shine the spotlight on other members of the ensemble. “New Latin” is one such chart. Composed by the Cuban-born trumpeter, Alexander Brown, this chart intertwines between an intricate rhythmic pattern and an interesting melody introduced by Yosvany Castañeda Valdés underscored by an ostinato figure that grows into a beautifully improvised piano sojourn by the inimitable Hilario Durán that leads eventually into a damask invention played exquisitely on soprano saxophone by Jane Bunnett. Then there is “Broken Steps” another exciting composition, this time by bassist and musical director Roberto Riverón, a wonderfully mellifluous chart that blends spiritual synthesizers with earthy African-Cuban percussion, sewn together, again, with Ms. Bunnett’s gorgeous flute. Also worthy of note is “Ancestral,” an extraordinary piece of music that is scored in the chopped rhythmic patterns of Thelonious Monk, that Giant of Music who continues to bestride the world like the proverbial colossus. The sequence that features the percussionist striking his way askance, as Hilario Durán traverses an equally jagged part of the score that brings the music to a wonderfully colourful close. The vocalist, Alberto Alberto’s swaggering guaguancó, “Easy Come, Easy Go” adds the choral element to this superb album from a percussionist whose time has come… Finally. It must be mentioned that the recording is extraordinarily produced and owes much of its character to the stellar group of musicians who are featured at various points in the production, adding to its timeless beauty.

Track Listing: Timbaloque; Siluetas; El Jamaiquino; From Guantánamo to Toronto; New Latin; Ancestral; Broken Steps; Easy Come, Easy Go.

Personnel: Jorge Luis Torres Paumier ‘Papiosco’: congas, timbales, quinto, chéquere, clave,  bongos, guïro, bell; Roberto Riverón Mederos: acoustic bass, keyboards (7); Jorge Betancourt Valero: acoustic piano; Yosvany Castañeda Valdés: violin, lead vocals (3), chorus (3, 8); Reimundo Sosa Reinoldes: bonkoenchemilla drum (6), Batá drums (7, 8).

Special Guests: Elmer Ferrer: acoustic guitar (2); Jorge Emilio Maza Valdés: flute (2); Alberto Alberto Pino: lead vocals (8), chorus (3, 8); Pablosky Rosales: tres guitar (4); Alexander Brown: trumpet (5); Jane Bunnett: soprano saxophone (5, 8), flute (7); Hilario Durán: acoustic piano (5, 7); Amhed Mitchel: timbales with drum (7); Bill King: Hammond B3 organ (8).

Label: Iroko Music
Release date: February 2014
Website: irokoproject.com
Buy Papiosco & Iroko’s music: amazon

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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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