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Leandro Saint-Hill Quartet: Cadencias

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Leandro Saint-Hill Quartet

The title of this album, that is Cadencias, by Leandro Saint-Hill and his quartet seems to fit the music like a velvet glove. The “cadences” of the titles begin with harmonies and rhythms that are nuanced, meditative and perhaps even quietly sensual, but as the record progresses – by the time we get to “Hecho Pa Ti Pana” and “Hombre de Siete Vidas” the music become rhythmically more intense before returning to the nuanced seduction of “Risa Milagrosa,” which bounces between Son and Danzón. No matter which part of the rhythmic spectrum the music goes, it is still a superb indication that Leandro Saint-Hill belongs to that great line of Afro-Cuban musical creators who do as much to preserve the Afro-Cuban tradition as [he] they do to innovate within that tradition.

Mr Saint-Hill may reside abroad, but in his music he creates a very Afro-Cuban sense of place, evoking the thunderous clapping and chanting of Lucumí, Akan and Arará rhythmic worship and celebration that traverses throughout the urban landscapes of Cuba, whose relentless energy and colliding narratives do much to shape his rich and dynamic style. This repertoire sweeps across the tradition of Afro-Cuban music evocative of its visceral syncretic worship as well as the soulfulness that the entire African Diaspora shares including the call-and-response mechanisms that grew into the Blues – which morphed into Jazz. “Palenque Blues” is a vividly superb example of this kind of expression. Mr Saint-Hill is, of course, reverential when it comes to his Afro-Cuban-ness and his music is nothing if not respectful of such rhythms, with which he glides through works sculpted from Danzón, Habanera, Rumba, Son and Chachachá.

While Mr Saint-Hill waxes eloquent – melodically – improvising idiomatically as he plays his songs, his quartet – and the stellar guests including members of Mr Saint-Hill’s illustrious musical family, Omar Sosa, Raúl Pineda, Tony Martínez and others, all respond in kind. Each of the musicians – starting with the members of his quartet – has deeply interiorized his music. From the core quartet, pianist Matthäus Winnitzki is steeped in the composer and leader’s aesthetic and brings rich harmonies and rhythmic drive to his interpretations. The quartet is anchored in the wall of bass from Omar Rodríguez Calvo and drums and percussion of Nené Vásquez Ruíz. The apogee of this collision of melody, harmony and rhythm comes with the memorable duet between Mr Saint-Hill and percussionist Nené Vásquez Ruíz on “Hecho Pa Ti Pana”. The path to this climactic piece is laid down right out of the gates, with “Palenque Blues” and its sculpted inventions that unfold from one superb harmonic variation to the next.

The cunningly sensual music of “Papuchos Ice Cream” animates the archetypal charming character who suffers from a delusional weakness for vanilla bourbon almond ice cream. And it isn’t only the vocals titillate; the long and slender shape imparted to the harmonic and rhythmic twists and turns add much humour to the work as well. The heroic scale and exhilarating sweep of these works create a sense of a musical world in constant and majestic dynamism as the songs collide at the perfect place where tradition meets modernity, in the multi-layered musical narratives, performed with eloquence and exuberance.

Track list – 1: Palenque Blues; 2: Papuchos Ice Cream; 3: Otra Primavera [Springtime]; 4: Rumbea Chencho; 5: Otoño Lleno de Luz [Autumn Full of Light]; 6: Seres Elegantes; 7: Influencia de Eminentes; 8: Destellos del Reflejo; 9: Llegada Paralela; 10: Mantén la Marcha; 11: Hecho Pa Ti Pana; 12: Hombre de Siete Vidas; 13: Risa Milagrosa; 14: Yambú en Trance.

Personnel – Leandro Saint-Hill Montejo: alto and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet and vocals; Omar Rodríguez Calvo: contrabass; Matthäus Winnitzki: piano; Nené Vásquez Ruíz: percussion.

Guest Musicians – Omar Sosa: piano and percussion [3, 8]; Marcelo Saint-Hill Sweeney: violin: [13]; Sandor Saint-Hill Montejo: piano [13]; Jocelyn Saint-Hill: backing vocals [3, 8, 12]; Arturo Martínez: vocal and percussion [4, 14]; Fernando Spengler: vocals [2]; Silvano Mustelier Cabreja: bàtá [8]; Maurice Remedios Sarria: percussion [2, 4, 6, 10, 12, 14]; Yanara Figueroa: violin [13]; Annika Stolze: cello [13]; Dany Labana Martínez: trés and guitar [14]; Elio Rodríguez Luis: congas and background vocals [1]; Raúl Pineda: drums and percussion [7, 8, 13]; Jesús Díaz: percussion [7]; Antonio Lizana: alto saxophone and vocals [7]; Tony Martínez: piano [7]

Released – 2021
Label – German Wahnsinn
Runtime – 1:03:32

L to R: Omar Rodríguez Calvo, Matthäus Winnitzki, Leandro Saint-Hill, Nené Vásquez Ruíz. Photo: Tim Ohnsorge

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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Featured Albums

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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