What’s new in the idiom of jazz? The next generation of Cuban musicians have arrived. Look no further than what they have brought with them. It is not really a difficult assessment to make. Manuel Valera, David Virelles, Yosvany Terry, Elio Villafranca, Dafnis Prieto, Charles Flores (whose life was cut short before he could release his seminal contribution), the great Hilario Durán (stop underrating him), and a handful of others. These are the young masters who paying tribute to the grand masters of Afro-Cuban and Jazz idioms have helped to make much music. They have infused the Blues and Jazz with Blues and Jazz of their own. Their music is tempestuous, beguiling and always exciting. Like making that left turn unexpectedly to find something so inviting that the listener is stopped in his or her tracks. This new album by Manuel Valera and the New Cuban Express In Motion is the third release since Mr. Valera formed the band. The new cast of characters includes the terrific bassist, Hans Glawischnig and awesome trumpeter Alex Sipiagin. This incarnation makes them somewhat stronger than they have ever been, not that John Benitez was not a fine member of the band, but their sound has become rounder and fuller with the addition of a trumpet and the more voluptuous acoustic bass.
Of these musicians, the Afro-Cuban idiom is more pre-eminent in the music of Hilario, David Virelles, Yosvany Terry and Elio Villafranca. The music of Manuel Valera, Dafnis Prieto and Charles Flores, has come to be represented by some sort of Confucian reed by the water’s edge, bending in the wind and twisting yielding to onrushing jazz idiom so that their elasticity is more pronounced. And this is the most evident in the music of Manuel Valera, who has taken musical meter and stretched it as far as it possibly can. His writing plays on the innermost ear like a very fast game of hopscotch, swinging, skittering and chasing the stone. This has become—in the case of the music—its heart that is no longer besting in its regular rhythm, but racing and skipping the odd beat every now and then. In the delightful melee is Mr. Valera who is a study in grace and beauty. Of all of the Cuban pianists playing today his pianism is most strongly aligned to classic melodicism. The rhythmic element of his left hand exists in the dance-like structure that holds up the melody like an edifice that is suddenly built before the wonderstruck listener. Suddenly because all the while the ear has been tuned to the percussion that has been adding subtle colours and tones to the music; then Mr. Valera solos and he gently shifts focus to the piano. His statements are elaborate as he expands on the geometry of the melody making wondrous structures in a high-wire act that is breathtaking to behold.
Manuel Valera is one of the most generous of musicians on this and other albums that he has made with various groups. Here, on In Motion his music unfolds best in the collaborative effort that he has forged with this ensemble. His ability to arrive in the limelight and withdraw from it is generous. This is evident in most of the music here, but is especially gracious on “Descargando,” the profoundly beautiful “Bantu” and the epic “Storyteller,” which are just three of the defining tracks on this exquisite album.
Track List: Descargando; Preamble; Bantu; No Puedo Ser Feliz; Storyteller; Mirrors; Para Emiliano; NYC; Factors
Personnel: Manuel Valera: piano and Fender Rhodes; Yosvany Terry: alto and soprano saxophones, chekeré; Tom Guarana: guitar; Alex Sipiagin: trumpet and flugelhorn; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Ludwig Alfonso: drums; Mauricio Herrera: percussion
Label: Criss Cross Jazz | Release date: September 2014
About Manuel Valera
Based in New York City, Grammy nominated artist, pianist and composer Manuel Valera was born and raised in Havana, Cuba. Since arriving in NYC, he has become well known in the NYC modern jazz scene, garnering national reviews and lending his talents as a pianist and composer to such notable artist as Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Brian Lynch, Dafnis Prieto, Jeff “Tain” Watts, John Benitez, Samuel Torres, Joel Frahm and Yosvany Terry among many others. Read more…
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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