The ubiquitous Trinidadian – and, in Toronto, pan-Caribbean – Instrument: the steelpan has never sounded so exquisite than in the delicately feminine hands of Joy Lapps on her magnificent recording Girl in the Yard [her fifth release as a leader and her first album featuring original music and arrangements]. Not since the great Othello Molineux put a spotlight on the richly resounding instrument and presented his mighty soli with the inimitable Jaco Pastorius and his Word of Mouth Big Band. Not since Andy Narell fused his rhythmic momentum with increasingly propulsive phrases to Latin music, quite like he does on two pieces of this album too. And not since young virtuosos such as Victor Provost have presented their original repertoire, has someone like Miss Lapps shown complete mastery of the instrument.
However, there is something special about the manner in which Miss Lapps has shone a light on the instrument. With extraordinary virtuosity and lyrical tintinnabulation Miss Lapps has reoriented the Trinidadian steelpans into a newly melodic instrument with the manner in which she plays eloquent vocal-like lines using the starring tenor steelpan throughout this magical original repertoire. Additionally she also adds hypnotic harmonics – with alto, bass and the difficult-to-master double guitar steelpans – with aria-like beauty on “Fly” [both the “Intro” and the main song].
Remarkably, this is a recording of breathtaking original works. Miss Lapps traverses this comprehensive range of materials, shifting seamlessly between speeds and creating absorbing narratives both dramatic and intimate. There is a wonderful tensile energy that runs through these works, operating on a subliminal aural soundscape. But there is a powerful foreground narrative in each of the songs too. In fact, it is almost as if each narrative contains musical particles of dancers’ and singers’ bodies’ which form a kind of spirit-medium present within the composer’s mindset, revealed in each of the works.
Miss Lapps’ soli fall like colourful confetti upon the works as she pours her irresistible energy and dazzling skills into pieces with roots in everything from West Africa to the Caribbean, to calypso and soca to Brasilian maracatú and the all-pervasive samba. The latter springs to life on the most beautiful “Morning Sunrise”, a piece that is exquisitely crafted with Brasiliance. The rest of the musicians – playing the melodic and harmonic lines with brisk samba rhythms glide seamlessly, string quartet in tow – bringing to life a colourful harmonic palette in the second half of the work.
The composer and lead instrumentalist shows her lyrical and elegiac side on songs such as “Eyes of Amerrslys”, a tribute to her mother, to “Serena” [perhaps the most lyrical work on the album]. Miss Lapps is particularly brilliant on “Sharifa The Great”, an unabashed homage to her sister, where her [Miss Lapps’] remarkable dexterity and flair are showcased to bring out all of her jazz-influenced musical sensibilities. But it is on “Fly [Intro” and “Fly” [the main movement] – easily the apogee of the album – where the composer’s invigorating artistry is gleaned from an energetic performance.
Speaking of performances, this disc features a stellar ensemble, with a cast of musicians who play not only to their individual strengths but also form a contiguous whole. Mighty soloists such as pan-wizard Andy Narell, bassist Andrew Stewart, the great drummer [and Miss Lapps’ partner] Larnell Lewis form a proverbial rhythmic wall with other percussionists that includes Marito Marques, Magdelys Savigne, Brian Edwards, Rosendo Chendy León, guitarist Elmer Ferrer, who rocks every guitar solo with rippling grooves, and others. There are, of course, many more accomplished musicians who adorn this profoundly elegant repertoire with their almost insolent virtuosity to make this hour-long recording a treat for the ear and the mind’s mind.
Tracks – 1: Lulu’s Dream; 2: Josie’s Smile; 3: Breathless; 4: Juliet Blooms; 5: Morning Sunrise; 6: Eyes of Amerralys; 7: Serena; 8: Juliet Blooms [Reprise]; 9: Sharifa The Great; 10: Granny’s Pan; 11: Fly [Intro]; 12: Fly; 13: Josie’s Smile [Reprise]
Musicians – Joy Lapps: tenor steelpan, alto steelpan [6, 11, 12], bass steelpan [10, 11], double guitar steelpan , percussion  and background vocals ; Jeremy Ledbetter: clavinet  and piano [2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13]; Courtney Frazer: organ [1, 12], Fender Rhodes , piano , melodica  and background vocals ; Michael Shand: piano [1, 3, 6] and Fender Rhodes  and background vocals ; Elmer Ferrer: guitar [1 – 3, 5 – 9] and tres ; Eric St. Laurent: [3, 4, 8, 12]; Kobèna Aquaa Harrison: guitars and percussion ; Andrew Stewart: bass guitar [1 – 9, 12, 13], programming [1, 9, 12], arrangements and production; Larnell Lewis: drums [1 – 9] and background vocals 5]; Rosendo Chendy León: congas and percussion [1, 4, 7 – 9]; Brian Edwards: congas and [percussion [2, 3, 13]; Marito Marques: balafon and kalimba [4, 8]; Diogo Los Heras: congas and percussion ; Mario Allende: pandeiro ; Magdelys Savigne: percussion [7, 11, 12]; David Richards: additional percussion [2, 13]; Chellz: surdo  and cuatro ; Rob Christian: tenor saxophone , soprano saxophone , flute [3, 5, 9] and bansuri ; Jesse Ryan: alto saxophone [2, 13]; Shelkah Francis: alto saxophone ; Marcus Ali: wooden flute [4, 8]; Colleen Allen: clarinet ; Tara Kannangara: flugelhorn ; Aleksander Gajic: 1st violin [5, 9]; Janetta Wiczewaka: 2nd violin [5, 9]; Aysel Taghi-Zada: viola [5, 9]; Jonathan Tortolano: cello [5, 9]; Elizabeth Rodriguez: violin . Elina Rawlins: background vocals ; Special Guests – Andy Narell: alto steelpan [2, 13], tenor and bass steelpans ; Shaquila Alexander: alto steelpan ; Asha Lapps: double guitar steelpan  Dionne Wilson: lead and background vocals .
Released – 2022
Label – Independent
Runtime – 1:00:33
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
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.
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 
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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The Latin Side of Jazz · Episode 26
Artist Profile: Adrien Brandeis
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
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