There may be many alto saxophonists born into the musical topography of Afro-Caribbean music, all of whom boast singular voices, but none with voices as distinctive as Miguel Zenón, [Yosvany Terry and César López]. Each of them are capable of such preternatural power that in a single powerfully eloquent phrase they are capable of completely occupying – and holding – the mind of the listener enthralled for as long as they please.
Miguel Zenón does exactly that through his glimmering artistry on Música De Las Américas. Moreover even after his bewitching melodies and cascading harmonics – played with laser-focus and incessant stabbing rhythmic grooves – have faded away the impression that this music leaves behind echoes ad infinitum. There are few musicians of this generation who have kept Puerto Rican musical traditions so vividly alive than Mr Zenón.
One only has to cast a cursory glance over his oeuvre from the iconic trilogy Jíbaro, Esta Plena and Alma Adentro, and the masterful Sonero [The Music of Ismael Rivera] to be seized of how he has almost single-handedly turned on the arc-lights on to reveal – once again – the magical music that has simmered above and below the surface of the bronzed Puerto Rican musical skin. With his 2022 release Música De Las Américas , Mr Zenón seems to have found a way to lift his art to an altogether new level.
Digging deep into the historic ethos of the region Mr Zenón has found new ways to celebrate the proud heritage of the people who lived on the Caribbean islands for scores of generations before they were first colonised in the 15th century. This is, however, no dry academic history lesson of Afro-Caribbean musical traditions despite the title of the album making specific reference to that aspect of the recording.
The enduring liveliness of the musical traditions of the pre-colonial life in The Americas are presented in eight heraldic tone poems that sparkle from beginning to end with their idiomatically written and solidly structured performances by the musicians of Mr Zenón’s regular quartet – pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole, together with a super-constellation of special guests. The effervescent nature of Indigenous life – the celebration of human existence – is superbly turned to song by Mr Zenón.
Song – specifically the making of truly songful music – is something that few artists excel at like Mr Zenón. This is not restricted to his compositions alone – although even if he didn’t play a note they would still remain utterly unique – but Mr Zenón extends this songful-ness to his virtuoso performance of his chosen instrument. Here too he has carved a niche all his own with his soaring, aria-like vocal of playing. This is why he can pour into music equal measures of grief and sadness as well as unfettered joyfulness.
All of this is put to magnificent use to tell the history of a group of people before colonisation sullied the purity of life. Mr Zenón distributes the material ingeniously between instruments [with a nod to alto-piano carrying the melodic-harmonic heft of the music, with bass-drums-percussion creating the rhythmic edifice from which the living music reverberates. The narrative is woven right from the rippling vibe of “Taínos Y Caribes” and reverberates with the sadness and fury of “Opresión Y Revolución” through the unfettered joyfulness of “América, El Continente” and the uplifting denoument of the recording “Antillano”.
This repertoire tumbles and echoes across the spontaneous-sounding soundscape that the composer calls Música De Las Américas. Musicians delight in their roles as purveyors of musical truth as they palpably relish their [musical] cavorting and pirouetting from start to finish. Música De Las Américas is yet another master-class in the art of music-making by the peerless Miguel Zenón.
Tracks – 1: Taínos Y Caribes; 2: Navegando [Las Estrellas Nos Guían]; 3: Opresión Y Revolución; 4: Imperios; 5: Venas Abiertas; 6: Bámbula; 7: América, El Continente; 8: Antillano
Musicians – Miguel Zenón Quartet – Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Henry Cole: drums and featuring – Los Pleneros de La Cresta – Emil Martinez, Edwin “Wechin” Avilés, Joshuan Ocasio, Joseph Ocasio and Jeyluix Ocasio: panderos, percussion and vocals ; Paoli Mejías: percussion on ; Víctor Emmanuelli: barril de bomba ; Daniel Díaz: congas 
Released – 2022
Label – Miel Music
Runtime – 1:05:27
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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