This album, by Manuel Valera Sr. Recuerdos ranks—with Charlie Haden’s Nocturne as one of the most beautiful albums of boleros made in recent times. Mr. Valera is a superb alto saxophonist with a sinewy, yet mellow tone that seems to take its cue from the likes of Lester Young. And when he plays soprano he sounds like an excited bird in flight, swooping down to show off its exquisiteness from time to time. Mr. Valera has a voice of his own. His soaring (and dipping) intonation is described in arcs that are wide and wondrous. These are, somehow, more pronounced when he plays the soprano saxophone, although his lines on alto might also curve in magnificent parabolas, laced with the décor befitting a splendid baroque ornament. However, Mr. Valera can also be utterly simple in the short soli that he takes, in deference to the utter simplicity of the nature of the bolero. He expresses himself with a wonderful choice of notes. This speaks to his masterly musicianship as well as to his rare intellect that can only come from years of practicing his art and fine tuning it as he went along. Had he sung, Mr. Valera might have been a troubadour. As it is he already sounds like one as he plays wordless melodies with such unassuming brilliance. In all of these aspects there seems to be no one like him in the almost liquid, glimmering tone and manner with which he plays. “Solitude,” played as a duet with his son is heartbreakingly beautiful.
Much of what is exquisite about Recuerdos has to do with the fact that the ensemble here is blessed with superb arrangements, all of which are owed to Mr. Valera’s piano-playing son, Manuel, author and leader of the famous New Cuban Express and all of its extraordinary music. The younger Mr. Valera has not been around music as traditional as this in a long time. His attachment to the Afro-Cuban music of the bolero is shown to be so beautiful that it might be sure to leave the listener almost teary-eyed. Take the Osvaldo Farrés classic “Tres Palabras” for instance. The song is played with much soul and spirituality. The soli of both father and son are perhaps the most magnificent on the whole album, although the musicality of the two on the spectacular “Si Me Comprendieras” is just as marvelous. Their playing is matched in ingenuity by the superb bass of Hans Glawischnig. The Austrian-born, New York-based sensation has a reputation for extraordinary flexibility. This enables him to play in various scenarios and with musicians of varied temperaments. The bassist is able also to play in a myriad of idioms, so it ought to be no surprise that he is so comfortable in the Afro-Latin one. And yet the listener might marvel at his muscular, loping style that results in exquisite melodic lines that run counter to the main melody. Mr. Glawischnig is one of the lead voices on this recording and he contributes mightily to its beauty everywhere on this recording, but especially on “Canción de Un Festival”.
Percussion is so important to any recording, much more so the Afro-Cuban ones, where clave rules. Here there are no words of praise enough to describe the playing of drummer Ludwig Afonso and the percussionist Mauricio Herrera. Together they control a colour-palette that is tastefully used and with so much attention to harmonics that they too are pivotal in the making of this recording, which must surely rank as one of the best of its kind in 2014.
Track List: Si Me Comprendieras; La Rosa Roja; Alma con Alma; La Tarde; Longina; Tres Palabras; Si Te Contara; Solamente Una Vez; Canción de Un Festival; Solitude
Personnel: Manuel Valera Sr.: alto and soprano saxophones; Manuel Valera: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Ludwig Afonso: drums; Mauricio Herrera: percussion
Label: Mavo Records | Release date: November 2014 | Buy music on: amazon
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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