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Nelson Riveros: The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery

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Nelson Riveros

There can be no question that the world of modern – Jazz – guitar would not be quite the same without [first] Charlie Christian, and [then] Wes Montgomery. Who would have thought, however, that Mr Montgomery’s liquid Jazz guitar could be interpreted any other way than he played it without losing the liquidity of his playing, that is. The idea that his music could have a life in the many splendored idioms of South American music was probably furthest in the minds of guitar-playing musicians. Mr Montgomery’s music is so forcefully linear, propelled by melodic lines that seem to spurt in rhythmic, yet volcanic bursts from his fingers.

Nelson Riveros - The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery
Album cover – Nelson Riveros: The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery

Along comes guitarist Nelson Riveros who braves the monumental challenge of flipping the script, so to speak; to turn Mr Montgomery’s already-iconic musical signature into something quite spectacularly his [Mr Riveros’] own. Remarkably Mr Riveros does this in the manner that – metaphorically-he has eaten of the fruit of the Manifesto Antropófago of Brasilian poet and polemicist Oswald de Andrade, the Brasilian modernist whose palimpsest suggested that Brasil’s history of “cannibalising” other cultures, a modernist/primitivist tribal rite that enabled the country to assert itself against European post-colonial cultural domination.

What worked splendidly for Brasilian artists such as De Andrade and his painter-wife, Tarsila do Amaral seems to have informed Mr Riveros’ interpretations of Wes Montgomery’s music to the extent that it takes the culturally amorphous shape of the South American soundworld. And this is superbly reflected in the repertoire on this disc – The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery. The title may be a tad simplistic because it doesn’t quite describe the richness of the musical soundscape of Mr Riveros. But a handsome disc it certainly is.

First of all Mr Riveros goes well beneath the songs [seven composed by Mr Montgomery and two originals that reveal Mr Riveros’ uncommon musicality]. Remaining keenly sensitive to Mr Montgomery’s artistic vision – evoked by rounded notes developing into swirling melodic lines gently interrupted by bell-like block chords brought to life by soft skin on gleaming steel – Mr Riveros invites us into his alternate musical world; one where dappled light illuminates enchanting, almost mystic harmonies brought to life with intoxicating rhythms brilliantly interpreted by pianist Hector Martignon, bassist Andy McKee, the drummer Mark Walker [inimitable when he rumbles into a Latin groove] and percussion colourist Jonathan Gomez.

And so, having undertaken this exotic musical adventure, does Mr Riveros bring greater penetration to the music of Wes Montgomery? There’s no need to answer this rhetorical question. Mr Riveros’ voice is a glowing work-in-progress, with a light, bright timbre that leaves the untold rhythmic riches of Brasilian music only to dwells in the vast lyricism of South American music. This quality makes for an, all-encompassing sound world imbued with the shuffling rhythms of the Colombian porro [“Wes’ Tune”] and the Venezuelan joropo [“West Coast Blues”] that shape-shifts into a fandango and a son jarocho. Through it all the uncommon virtuosic skill these stellar musicians is on full display, in the soli of Mr Martignon [“Jingles], Messieurs Walker and Gomez [“Tear it Down”] and Mr McKee [“Facing Wes”].

Every once and a while Mr Riveros stops over in Brasil; to take in a rhapsodic samba [“Tear it Down”] and dive into Africana by invoking the afôxé and the baião on his inspired composition “Nelson’s Groove”, a heart-felt tribute to Mr Montgomery’s skidding , bluesy tunes. Mr Riveros’ creates what could easily be referred to as a musical doppelgänger in “Facing Wes”, a reflection of the impact that the music of The Great One may have had on the Brasilian. Yet nothing can prepare you for the version of Mr Montgomery’s “Leila” a rapturous acoustic version that is not only the apogee of this recording, but a song that melts with tenderness to bring to an end this poetic insight into the music of one of the most influential Jazz guitarists, a transcendent musical tribute made with heartfelt love.

Track list – 1: Road Song; 2: Tear It Down; 3: Four on Six; 4: Wes’ Tune; 5: Nelson’s Groove; 6: West Coast Blues; 7: Jingles; 8: Facing Wes; 9: Leila

Personnel Nelson Riveros: guitar; Hector Martignon: piano; Andy McKee: bass; Mark Walker: drums; Jonathan Gomez: percussion

Released – 2021
Label – ZOHO Music [ZM 202 103]
Runtime – 41:30

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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