Of all of the utterly unique aspects of the music of Michele Rosewoman’s New Yor-Uba, some are more breathtaking than everything else. Firstly, to borrow from Amanda Villepastour’s thesis that there are “Ancient Text Messages” that emanate from the “Yorùbá Bàtá Drum”, it would appear that Miss Rosewoman has achieved something that is so rare or virtually impossible for any musician not Afro-Cuban, or Afro-Caribbean or anyone else of the Diaspora of the Yorùbá and it is this: With her epic, wordless, yet worshipful suite “Oru de Oro” she has cracked the code of that ancient text. So it follows that I can think of almost no other musician in recent (or, indeed, past) times who has been able to – in an original contemporary composition – made such masterful use of the sacred bàtá drums. Moreover, she has done this in a such as skillful manner that is so deep “in the tradition” that you would be forgiven if you thought you were listening to something “traditional”.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Michele Rosewoman’s New Yor-Uba: Hallowed
But, of course, when it comes to Afro-Cuban music, the music of the Yorùbá tradition, that is, Miss Rosewoman anchors herself in the ancient tradition with a view to always look forward and what a spectacular way in which to do it indeed. Now, anyone who has followed the meteoric arc of her career in music would know that as she came under the influence of musicians such as Orlando “Puntilla” Ríos and, more recently, Román Díaz – Santeria adepts more than anything else – Miss Rosewoman’s music with Quintessence and especially that with her latest ensemble New Yor-Uba took on a more profoundly transcendent and spiritual turn. This has been true of her music for 35 years, something she celebrated with her New Yor-uba ensemble, first with New Yor-uba, 30 Years: A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America (Independent, 2013) and now with Hallowed.
With this album, Hallowed, Miss Rosewoman’s music, quite simply, ascends to the rarefied realm. And yet it has all of the elements that make it earthy and accessible despite being rooted in something as spiritually and philosophically “ancient”. Moreover, because our sensibilities have become so enlightened as to absorb the lessons of the harmonic “changes” and improvisational inventions of Jazz, if we listen to the repertoire on Hallowed we will also be awestruck at the diabolical complexity of its harmonic inventions – the “changes” – which are absolutely breathtaking and come at us fast and furious, sometimes as myriad and rapidly as the works of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. Yet, make no mistake, this is a musical propitiation to the gods in the Yorùbá tradition and so – of necessity – this is music that is broadly based, as Dr. Villepastour suggests, on the codes of the “Ancient Text Messages of the Yorùbá Bàtá Drum”.
Consequently, this is what is immediately appealing about the music: the use of the bàtá drums although not simply to telegraph the messages between Miss Rosewoman and the New You-Uba ensemble and the pantheon of Yorùbá deities, but also with the mesmerising rhythms of the trio of percussionists led by Román Díaz, to lead us in a kind of Santeria worship of those gods as well. And so led by the hallowed chatter of the okónkolo, iyá, itótele conjoined, and with Miss Rosewoman’s piano (and Fender Rhodes – an especially radiant accompaniment for the plaintive voice of Nina Rodríguez coming, as it does, after the “dark” chant by Mr Díaz) acting as the glue between the ancient and modern percussion and the growling of contemporary brass and woodwinds we are invited to a ceremony of Lukumí worship with the bàtá drums creating an incessant polyrhythmic chatter; “toques”, “tambor de santo” or “bembé” at the Lukumi ceremony.
I can’t but help also being taken by “Oru de Oro”, which is the centrepiece of this album and the harmonic trickery of the mysterious-sounding “The Wind is the First to Know” and “Alabanza”, which is full of dissonant yet joyous abandon. But the music of “Oru de Oro” is particularly alluring and – with its web of harmonic and rhythmic changes – is especially evocative of the musical canvas of Charles Mingus. Miss Rosewoman, of course, has an acutely singular voice and it shines with its own diaphanous musical canvas illuminated as if by glinting lights rippling with the stunning melodies and – more especially so – with a harmonic patina enriched by the shimmer of her pianism, rippling over the tone-textures of brass and woodwinds. But always, weaving in and out, over and under is the rumble and thunder of percussion heralded by the bàtá drums, the bass and the drums-set as well. All of this results in a broodingly percussive and tumbling groove as the ensemble swings between the worshipfully meditative and the cinematically jazzy. The constant push and pull between percussion, piano and blown instruments creates a dynamic tension that stretches and relaxes throughout this exquisite repertoire, drawing us in and mesmerising our senses at will.
With judiciously placed soli – a dark baritone saxophone somewhere, or a soaring, reflective soprano elsewhere – to usher us from one ceremony to the next we find ourselves beholden to the music, between the profoundly sacred and the joyfully secular, as we might find ourselves catching – now surfacing for air, no sooner than we are plunged into never-ending wave of the worshipful waters of the music. The recorded sound balances depth and detail with a sense of “live” warmth. Truly an album to die for…
Track list – 1-10: Oru de Oro 1: We Need You Now (Elegguá, Oggún, Ochosi); 2: Mountain Sky, Healthy High (Obaloke, Inte, Babalú-Ayé); 3: Forest of Secrets (Ossaín); 4: Color Clown (Osun, Dada, Oggue); 5: Hallowed (Obatalá); 6: Puntilla’s Gift (Aganyú); 7: Two Bodies, One Heavenly Soul (Orúnmila, Orisha Oko, Ibedji); 8: The Heart of It (Chango); 9: Flowers That Bloom in the Dark (Oyá, Yewa, Ochún, Oba); 10: There is Here, Then is Now (Yemayá, Oludua); 11: The Wind is the First to Know (for Oyá); 12: Alabanza (Praise)
Personnel – Alex Norris: trumpet and flugelhorn; Román Filiú: alto and soprano saxophones, and flute; Stacy Dillard: tenor saxophone; Chris Washburne: trombone, bass trombone and tuba; Andrew Gutauskas: baritone saxophone (11, 12); Michele Rosewoman: piano, Fender Rhodes and vocals; Gregg August: bass; Robby Ameen: drums; Román Díaz: bàtá, congas and vocals; Mauricio Herrera: bàtá, congas and vocals; Rafael Monteagudo: bàtá and congas; Nina Rodríguez: lead vocals (11)
Released – 2019
Label – Advance Dance Disques (AD 0355)
Runtime – 1:09:49
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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