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Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: The Art of Latin Jazz

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Oscar Hernandez & Alma Libre The Art of Latin Jazz

This music suggests that the robust health for one of the longest and most enduring musical influences in Jazz is in good hands. The good ‘doctor’ in charge of the check-up is none other than the celebrated composer, arranger and producer Oscar Hernández whose other full time job is as pianist of the equally celebrated Spanish Harlem Orchestra. As always, Oscar Hernández brings an elegant swing to the ten pieces of music on The Art of Latin Jazz with its expansive title track making for an assertive an impressively varied work in tonal colour and drama.

Warmth and an emphasis on smoothly flowing lines never seem to deprive this music of its polyrhythmic attack. “The Art of Latin Jazz”, the song, that is, provides an exceptionally eloquent leap-off point for the majestic lyricism of the melodies and the soaring improvisations that follow. It’s an immensely exciting start to a recording that has you on the edge of your seat. Primary colours abound in the seemingly orchestral texture provided by Justo Almario together with Gilbert Castellanos (when he is called in) and, of course, always by the fierce ‘tumbao’ of Oscar Hernández.

Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · The Art of Latin Jazz

It is always heartening to hear Oscar Hernández play piano outside of The Spanish Harlem Orchestra where he often defers to the many (orchestral) elements of the music written for that larger ensemble. But here, on The Art of Latin Jazz there is ample opportunity for him to shine. In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of characterisation and the exceptional range and refinement of his pianism Oscar Hernández here imparts a powerful stature to pieces such as “Danzón Para las Seis”, “ESPN Blues”, “Fort Apache” and, of course “Como Te Amo” and “Alma Libre”.

Justo Almario, a musician of immense character brings grand artistic gestures to the solos – especially in “Alma Libre” – always imbuing the music with poetic beauty, requisite lightness and transparent texture whether he is playing tenor or alto saxophone, or flute. When Castellanos joins in the festivities, Almario always keeps his fire in control, with a carving flame of his own. Often made to lead the charge into the uncharted territory of this new music is Jimmy Branly, a drummer of immense capability not only for music, but also blessed with an ear for the total impact of ‘sound’.

Jimmy Branly steadies the forward momentum of the music with Christian Moraga and conguero and percussionist Jorge “Sawa” Perez. Listen to “Alma Libre” for a complete survey of this rhythm section with its masterful performance, which ends this recording with a profoundly moving rhythmic document. The high level of ‘listening’ by these rhythmists to the music of Oscar Hernández informs the very high level of performance that gives new meaning to The Art of Latin Jazz.

Track List – 1: The Art of Latin Jazz; 2: One Day Soon; 3: Danzon Para las Seis; 4: Timeshift; 5: Right On; 6: ESPN Blues; 7; Fort Apache; 8: Entre Amigos; 9: Como Te Amo; 10: Alma Libre.

Personnel – Oscar Hernández: piano; Justo Almario: saxophones and flute; Jimmy Branly: drums; Christian Moraga: congas and percussion; Jorge “Sawa” Pérez: bass; Special Guests: Gilbert Castellanos: trumpet; Jeremy Bosch: background vocals (3).

Record Label: Origin Records
Year Released: 2017
Running time: 53:02

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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