The restless questing that characterises the musicianship of pianist Martin Bejerano is something that draws the inner-ear to his music like a proverbial moth to a flame. Additionally, this is because his music burns with a heat that suggests it has been issued from the corona of the sun. This – one must reiterate – has nothing whatsoever to do with the rapid pace of his vaunted arpeggios that may be called upon to adorn a melodic line. Nor is it because his dazzling harmonics may cartwheel rapidly downward or float ever upward in elliptical arcs – depending on what phrases or lines are suggested by his luxuriant musical brain.
Thus the title of his album – #CubanAmerican – has an almost sardonic twist to it as the music really has two sources, but when these meet, there’s no telling what will ensue. The hashtag adds an even more ironic touch. Even Duke Ellington’s famous phrase – the sound of surprise – somehow seems a trite way to describe Mr Bejerano’s music. When he is fired up – as he most certainly is on this repertoire – there’s no telling what will come of his ideas and conception once his fingers touch the keys of the piano. One’s feeling is that this music is issued not from fingertips brushing or hammering the ebony and ivory keys; rather it seems to arise from the raw nerve-endings of each restless finger – driven by a musical brain that is bursting with the elemental life.
The opening track – a legendary Colombian standard “Ay Cosita Linda” – ignites the recording as if it tears its way ferociously through the solitary speaker of an old radio with a view to making one’s ears burn with desire for “the cute” one in question. But don’t be fooled into thinking that a cultural mish-mash is all you are going to hear from the rest of the recording. #CubanAmerican is anything but that. The music that follows is more like a collision of the two halves of the American continent. What proceeds from the preternatural tremor of the opening song leads to a magical journey into another world full of glinting lights and shadows as long-limbed as the melodic lines and harmonic leaps of Mr Bejerano’s music.
The surprises, when they come, are effective and discreet; a moody harmonic change may be played as a bare-knuckled roll up and down the smashed notes of the scale on “Yo No Bailo”; or as pizzicato harmonics, elsewhere on the magical rendition of “Doxy” before that. A delicate curlicue of a bass line seems to underpin what sounds like a moaning wail on “You’ve Changed” and the close-knit ensemble passage on “B. Radley…” seems to develop from a single phrase that springs from a sly little dyad which breaks open the entire development of the work after it is played.
The artists who accompany Mr Bejerano on this fascinating voyage – bassist Edward Pérez, drummer Ludwig Afonso, percussionist Samuel Torres and the inimitable vocalist Roxana Amed – are clearly fully attuned to his vision and artistry.
The publicity for #CubanAmerican suggests that Mr Bejerano is at the pinnacle of his compositional and pianistic powers. That remains to be seen as what transpires on this recording only opens the door a crack, so to speak. In closing there is every indication that Mr Bejerano may scale even greater musical heights. However, even if he does not make another record after this [one earnestly hopes he will, of course], but if he never makes another record, then there is enough on this album to make him proud for the rest of his life.
Tracks – 1: Ay Cosita Linda [A Gringo Fantasy]; 2: Lonely Planet; 3: Doxy; 4: #CubanAmerican; 5: Origin Story; 6: Yo No Bailo; 7: You’ve Changed; 8: Mi Cafetal; 9: B. Radley [Electro MIDI Shred Remix]; 10: [supernova]
Musicians – Martin Bejerano: piano and keyboards; Edward Pérez: bass; Ludwig Afonso: drums; Samuel Torres: percussion; Roxana Amed: vocal 
Released – 2022
Label – Figgland Records [FR003]
Runtime – 1:13:40
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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