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Manuel Valera & New Cuban Express: Expectativas

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Manuel Valera

Manuel Valera - ExpectativasManuel Valera and New Cuban Express seem to have picked up from where they left off. Their album Expectativas has the same vigor and the same energy as its Grammy-nominated predecessor, New Cuban Express (2011). And while Mr. Valera may be continuing in that vein: that is the innovative use of Afri-Cuban rhythms to forge a new relationship with the idiom of jazz, this record, Expectativas brings something new. This is a rather visceral energy that bubbles and boils over in the underlying rhythmic inventions, but that is topped over by a more sophisticated polyphony that bathes the harmony, while the rhythm continues to agitate and excite what music is made in that proverbial crucible. It is like an exotic hydrocarbon produced when the elements are churned in a vessel, that being the piano of Mr. Valera. Immediately the wonderful throb and exquisite swaggering dance by the instruments—chiefly that of that other ingenious musician, Yosvany Terry, who yowls and yelps on soprano saxophone; growls and wails on alto and spikes his music with masterful percussion colours on the chékere.

Meanwhile Manuel Valera has been around the block a few more times with his steady band; he has travelled and broadened his perspective. For instance, his “Chennai Express,” about a train in Southern India gets more complex, not only capturing his Afri-Cuban roots, but also adding the inflections of complex Indian Carnatic polyrhythms. With this chart, Mr. Valera seems to be pushing up the gauntlet to his ensemble up a few notches. This is not a challenge that any of the wonderful percussionists shy away from. Drummer Alex Afonso takes up the thread from Eric Doob and Paulo Stagnaro the percussionist with a colourist’s palette not only swings with delight, but also broadens the canvas he shares with Mr. Afonso as well as the indefatigable Mauricio Herrera, who appears on “Chamber Timba” and then on batas while he turns in a fine performance on “Isabelita”. That Mr. Herrera does not play more is a real pity as he has an uncanny empathy for both the pianist and also bassist John Benitez. Surely he was missed.

Expectativas is all about music that is sophisticated and that which digs deeper into the consciousness. There is verve and suave dancing figures, but that is the state of the art of Afri-Cuban polyrhythms. The music appears all grown up after the first blush of the new thing that Mr. Valera had created for his previous album. However, this is not to say that Mr. Valera forgets the depth of his Cuban roots altogether. Here, for instance there is a spectacular vehicle for the pianist in a form that glorifies the Afri-Cuban cultural idiom to the fullest. In “Descarga Para Frank Emilio” not only does Mr. Valera pay homage to one of Cuba’s greatest pianists from another pioneering era, but he also shows where he himself comes from: the heart of the great Frank Emilio Flynn. The album ends with a superb portrait of Mr. Valera’s surroundings. “Las Americas” is a poignant farewell to the music of this album, and it hints at a new direction for Mr. Valera and New Cuban Express. Listeners can just wait with bated breath for the next big one from Manuel Valera and New Cuban Express.

Track Listing: Chamber Timba; Expectativas; Perception; Chennai Express (For S.A.M.); Intro To Isabelita; Isabelita; Jben Timbus (For John Benitez); La Gloria Eres Tu; En Cinco; Open Window; Descarga Para Frank Emilio; Las Americas.

Personnel: Manuel Valera: piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer; Yosvany Terry: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, Chékere; Tom Guarna: electric guitar, acoustic guitar; John Benitez: electric bass; Ludwig Afonso: drums; Paulo Stagnaro: percussion; Mauricio Herrera: percussion (1), Batás (6); Manuel Valera Sr.: alto saxophone (8).

Label: Mavo Records | Release date: September 2013

Website: manuelvalera.com | Buy music on: amazon

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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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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