Celebrating Dizzy Gillespie – the legendary trumpeter and creative twin of the great [and equally-legendary] Charlie Parker – is not uncommon, especially among Cuban musicians, who value his recognition and support for Afro-Cuban culture as something seminal and which began with his collaboration with the incomparable Cuban rumbero, Luciano “Chano” Pozo. However, most listeners are generally exposed to a sort of [residual] colonial “mythology” that comes from how the world outside Cuba sees that great country – with the city of Havana as its “cultural ambassador”. The reality is not simply different, but incredibly diverse and stretches from Pinar del Río to Guantánamo and everything else in between, which includes Matanzas, La Habana, Camagüey, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and eight other regions in the tiny Caribbean island nation.
Why the understanding of this is important is as important as understanding the difference between the reality of “Afro-Cuban” music and its faux-doppelgänger, which is rather deprecatingly called “salsa”. The percussion colourist Abraham Mansfarroll Rodriguez, like many Cuban musicians is one of the musicians who brings the richness and diversity in Cuban music to the fore in his deeply reverential homage to Dizzy Gillespie entitled Dizzy el Afrocubano – Hommage à Dizzy Gillespie. The musical tribute to Dizzy also raises the flag of Changüí, a lyrical-rhythmic musical idiom from the region of Guantánamo, which is where Mansfarroll – as he is popularly known – comes from. It is also a musical idiom which melds the Spanish canción with the West African and sub-Saharan rhythmic idioms such as kiribá and nengón.
Mansfarroll’s genius for invention reaches a musical summit of sorts on “Llegando a Bahía [Dizzy el Afrocubano – Hommage à Dizzy Gillespie]” the title track of this remarkable album. It is here that the African and Spanish collide with the Guantánamo [or “Cubanísmo”] nature of the percussionist. It is here that he pays homage to Dizzy – wielding his lyrical and rhythmic power in a song that combines uncommon melodicism with rhythmic supremacy. This was, after all, at the crux of the great collaboration between Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo in “Manteca”; in the rumbling tumbao that morphed into Jazz bursting with the immortal, dancing harmonic inflections of tumba-Francesa that Dizzy and Chano Pozo captured like a proverbial genie in a bottle.
That Mansfarroll has been able to sustain his creativity over eleven songs – especially the remarkable ones composed by him – all of which grow out of the changüí of his beloved Guantánamo, Cuba, is cause for great celebrations and all the accolades that are due to music of considerable significance. That Mansfarroll was able to do this while living outside his home-country of Cuba is an added bonus, going further in making this repertoire worthy of much more than merely words of praise. Of course, the percussionist is not alone in making this possible. This is, after all, a tribute to one of the greatest Jazz trumpeters of all time. Happily, Mansfarroll was inspired in his choice of musicians to accompany him on this journey.
The two lead melodic and improvisatory voices were handed to Carlos Sarduy and Mario “El Indio” Morejón, and they do an admirable job in making this music burn blue, which is to say that it burns in the hottest part of the flame. You only have to melt in the heat of “Tin Tin Deo” and – more so – in the mystical and crepuscular “Night in Tunisia” – both now associated with the legend that is Dizzy. But make no mistake, the two trumpeters are not alone in bringing something special to this repertoire. There is also the wondrous playing of Irving Acao Sierra, another Cuban expatriate who resides in Europe. The French-Cuba collaboration has enabled Mansfarroll to rope in other musicians of considerable ability and repute – trombonists Denis Cuni and Martin Berlugue, for instance, and pianists Laurent Coulondre and Dimitris Sevdalis as well, who bring superb musicianship with them.
The wall of rhythm is granite-strong and this has everything to do with the masterful musicianship of percussionists Inor Sotolongo Zapata, Sebastián Quezada and Pedro Barrios, all of whom help create this gigantic rhythmic edifice; which leaves the proverbial best for last, and this goes to Felipe Cabrera Cárdenas, a towering contrabassist who anchors everything in the density and rumbling of his musicianship, with Luis Manresa and Rafael Paseiro, who share in the bass line credits of this monumental album.
Track list – 1: Tin Tin Deo; 2: Algo Bueno; 3: Con Alma; 4: Llegando a Bahía [Dizzy el Afrocubano Hommage à Dizzy Gillespie]; 5: Babul; 6: Danzón Dizzy; 7: Dizzy Rumba; 9: Night in Tunisia; 10: Manteca; 11: Díselo Diz
Personnel – Carlos Miguel Hernández: voice ; Mario “El Indio” Morejón: trumpet [1 – 3, 10]; Carlos Sarduy: trumpet [4 – 9, 11]; Denis Cuni: trombone 1 – 8, 10, 11]; Martin Berlugue: trombone ; Irving Acao Sierra: saxophones [1 – 8, 10, 11]; Dimitris Sevdalis: piano [1 – 3, 5 – 11]; Laurent Coulondre: piano ; Felipe Cabrera Cárdenas: contrabasse [1 – 3, 5 – 7, 10]; Luis Manresa: bass [4, 8]; Rafael Paseiro: bass ; Abraham Mansfarroll Rodriguez: percussion; Inor Sotolongo Zapata: percussion; Sebastian Quezada: [percussion 1 – 3, 10]; Pedro Barrios: [percussion [4 – 8, 11]
Released – 2021
Label – Independent
Runtime – 55:33
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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