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Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion: Veneta

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Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion Group

If, as has been said, chamber music is a conversation among friends then this is not only a lively one but also a very wide-ranging one that takes place on the album, Veneta. The musical “chat” between the musicians of the Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion ensemble is also one in which disparate elements that have played a role in forming this music and in like manner, it is one in which everyone has a say, bringing to this art discourse, not only the flamenco that informs Mr Espinoza’s cultural references, but a wide sound world of different periods and stylistic pursuits.

Album cover - Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion - Veneta
Album cover – Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion: Veneta

We hear, at the very outset that the chronology, while dwelling in the modern, also includes “Gnossienne”, from the famed cycle of music by Erik Satie, albeit interpreted in the style of flamenco. Happily, though, it makes eminent sense to play the work with that kind of twist and is also utterly pleasing to the ear. One could not imagine an entirely different reading of the piece than this; neither could one be surprised by how – with the lightness of this performance – how exciting and naturally authentic the interpretation sounds. Flamenco inflections are summarily restored in good order with “Bulerias Barrocas” on which there is no mistaking where this group’s – and Mr Espinoza’s – musical heart lies.

Rhythm and pulse are at the heart of the flamenco, just as the deep seduction of the song is its soul. This duende is very much in evidence on this disc. But with the addition of the tabla the frenzy of the rhythmic experience is hugely magnified. Naturally, such a visceral energy would make for a wind-up that is impossible to let go of. This is also very much the norm on this album. Even the usually noble and gracious momentum at which a cello is played is reinvented per force because of the innate energy of flamenco. Dianne Betkowski is eminently up to that task. The bold pizzicato of her strokes on “Veneta” [another fine buleria] is a fine example of that aspect of her technique – which, together with her gliding playing con arco makes for a truly virtuoso performance.

Of course, all the musicians having bought into the leader’s vision parley like old friends sharing the joys of fellowship with some fine music.

Track list – 1: Gnossienne; 2: Bulerias Barrocas; 3: Sad; 4: Veneta; 5: Cayendo; 6: Happy

Personnel – Miguel Espinoza: guitar; Dianne Betkowski: cello; Randy Hoepker: bass; Lynn Baker: saxophone; Andy Skellenger: tabla and cajón; Mario Moreno: timbales, congas and bongo

Released – 2022
Label – Independent
Runtime – 36:18

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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Featured Albums

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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