What can you say about the album Mélange by Kalí Rodríguez-Peña? So many things, really… For one: it’s the kind of album that instantly leaps out at you from the plethora that land on your desk. The music on it is so brimful with songfulness. And even the most meditative songs on it still make the music so danceable that you find yourself doing just that. Moreover, the music is so beckoning you almost instantly want to buy up copies of it to give it to friends, family and music lovers wherever they may be.
There is a genuine innocence about the musician who is Kalí Rodríguez-Peña. His genius stems from the fact that his approach to music originates from a sense of playfulness with notes, melody, harmony and rhythm. He plays as he writes too; and the sense of wonderment is so palpable that you feel this trumpet-playing artist is made almost completely of music. But wait; there is more… listening to what he does with the traditional lullaby, “Drume Mobila”, will make you gasp for breath because he does the impossible – he makes the song even more lovely; aimed right at the heart – in fact what he does with the song is turn it into heart-music.
Of course Mr Rodríguez-Peña is not the only one responsible for making the aforementioned come about. A great deal of the heart-soft impact of the song comes from the fact that it seems sacred in its solitude. Pianist Aruán Ortíz makes that happen with his sweeping impressionism and long, fluttering inventions. Vocalist Gina D’Soto puts the proverbial icing atop the lyric with her whisper-soft rendition of the song. Both these musicians weave that dramatic voicing into Mr Rodríguez-Peña’s sculpted lines, all of which goes to giving the music an almost sacred sheen.
“Drume Mobila” is the quietest song on the album; its solemn Madonna-and-child-like rocking pulse and rhythm is also the most balletic song on the album. Everything else is eloquently fierce. Mr Rodríguez-Peña’s penchant for invention is certainly evident in his own compositions. But it is the manner in which approaches standards that is fresh and completely out of the axiomatic left-field. Take the song “Yes or No” by Wayne Shorter. The re-invention of the harmonic conception of this song borders on impetuous and here’s why:
Taking a Shorter song – any song – and “mixing” it up so that it bakes like a whole new cake – one that not only looks different, but also tastes completely different. This is what happens here when Mr Rodríguez-Peña brings the full impact of his genius for re-harmonisation to a standard work. And then there is the matter of how the inimitable drummer Zack O’Farrill re-creates the rhythm of the song with such a wide open pulse that it leaves a kind of shifting space for the other [instrumental] ‘voices’ to innovate. This is also a wonderful example of how Mr Rodríguez-Peña is able to re-write a work using musical acute and obtuse angles.
Mr Rodríguez-Peña also breaks on through in his writing on the breathtaking version of “Like Someone in Love” as he turns the mushy romanticism of the original song into a breezy, sensual and balletic interplay between two lovers. His magical re-harmonisation and rhythmic sculpture here is wholly refreshing and inventive. You will see this – albeit in a radically different manner – on Mr Rodríguez-Peña’s monumental and spacey “Thinking of the Universe”, a song that is Mr Rodriguez-Peña’s response to the mystery of space that is beyond eyesight.
Through all of this we find that Mr Rodriguez-Peña is not only a fiercely creative musician, but also a lyrical poet of song and this is, perhaps, the most refreshing aspect of his musicianship. This fact and the ability as a young trumpeter to display an almost fully-formed voice, one that holds its own in the entire continuum of music is indeed a treat to discern and behold.
Now when you add the magic of bassist Bam Bam Rodríguez, the ingenious pianism of Gabriel Chakarji and the woody thunder of the barril and the resonant thump and caress of the congas at the hands of Victor Pablo García and the soaring vocals of Jeremy Bosch into the bubbling cauldron of music all of this makes for a memorable musical mix – one that makes the Mélange so irresistible that it makes you leap out of your chair and dance.
Track list – 1: Yes or No; 2: A Student is Not a Disciple; 3: La Historia de Eréndira; 4: Drume Mobila; 5: Like Someone in Love; 6: Interlude; 7: Thinking of the Universe; 8: Las Memorias de las Calles; 9: Se Acabó
Personnel – Kalí Rodríguez-Peña: trumpet; Kazemde George: tenor saxophone; Gabriel Chakarji: piano, keyboards and Fender Rhodes; Bam Bam Rodríguez: contrabass and electric bass; Zack O’Farrill: drums; Victor Pablo García: congas, barril and percussion – Special Guests – Gina D’Soto: vocals ; Jeremy Bosch: lead vocals ; Aruán Ortíz: piano 
Released – 2022
Label – Truth Revolution Records [TRRC 056]
Runtime – 1:00:30
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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