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Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: Visión

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Pianist, composer Oscar Hernández

Over the years Oscar Hernández has been the flag bearer, not simply of the music of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra but of the very sound of El Barrio. His spritely and elegant music characterised by lyrical melodies, formed by a jigsaw of themes and harmonies, propelled into parabolic curves and towering arcs by zesty and often impetuous rhythms seem to capture not just night skies reflecting evenings redolent of glittering marquees of shimmering lights. But what serves him best of all is his full-bodied tone which, together with a delicate pianism, locks in the music’s poignancy.

Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: Visión
Album cover – Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: Visión

Every once and a while Mr Hernández sets off on a solo sojourn, handpicking his travelling crew to keep on truckin’ into unexplored territory. His 2022 expedition – no doubt the product of pent-up creativity hampered by over two years of pandemic lockdown – appears to be rooted in a change of musical and emotional perspective. Not surprisingly the recording is entitled Visión.

But the real revelation is the depth of emotion that is contained in the music – no doubt a product of coming face-to-face with vulnerability, human frailty and the impermanence of life. This is central to “Visión” and may be heard particularly in the danzón dedicated to his mother: “Doña Provi”, a song with a fluttering melody held aloft by the lightness of her spirit embodied in the flute solo by Justo Almario and in Mr Hernandez’s own piano solo that follows.

It is the vivacity of life, however, that is reflected in Mr Hernandez’s high-spirited homage to Chick Corea: “Chick Forever”. The quiet dynamism of the song is propelled by the hopping solo on the tenor saxophone by Mr Almario, which features dazzling arpeggios and glimmering, moist glissandos. A short burst of the piano that follows breaks up the song so that the mighty rumbling bass of Oskar Cartaya and rattle and hum of the drums played with lively colour by Jimmy Branly together with percussion by Christian Moraga run dramatically opposed to the elegant and steamy trumpet by Aaron Janik.

Luisito Quintero brings a rolling thunder of the congas to “Make the Move”. Joe Locke is another inspired guest and stars in the misty radiance of “Virtually Here”, which – as the title suggests – seems to be back-lit from another dimension. Mr Hernández and Mr Locke play in beautiful  gamboling contrapuntal lines occasionally joined in by Mr Almario’s flute and Mr Janik’s restless trumpet soli.

Through it all Mr Hernández’s piano is at the heart of the emotional epicentre of this music, forever underlining the harmonic canvas and the rhythmic palette this music by dictating the very flow of this music that makes its radiant way, propelled by Mr Hernández’s hyperactive right hand that glides; then punches and crackles in triads and sparkling loping, single note lines. This is Oscar Hernández at the height of  his musicality.


Track list – 1: Visión; 2: Ritmo pa’ Ti; 3: Doña Provi; 4: Chick Forever; 5: Make the Move; 6: Tributo al Son; 7: Don’t Stop Now; 8: Spring; 9: So Believe It; 10: Virtually Here

PersonnelOscar Hernández: piano; Justo Almario: tenor saxophone and flute; Oskar Cartaya: bass; Jimmy Branly: drums; Christian Moraga: congas and percussion. Special Guests – Aaron Janik: trumpet [1, 2, 4, 5, 8]; Joe Locke: vibraphone [8]; Luisito Quintero: timbales [1], congas [5] and bongos [6]

Released – 2022
Label – Ovation Records [OV-04-OH]
Runtime – 52:28

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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