Editor’s Pick · Featured Album
The Pacific Mambo Orchestra takes its name from the form of Cuban dance music pioneered by the charanga group Arcaño y sus Maravillas [circa 1937], made more popular in the big bands of Pérez Prado and world-famous by El Rey – the great Tito Puente, and Tito Rodríguez. Essentially [originally] a syncopated form of the danzón, known as danzón-mambo, mambo, as we know [and enjoy] it today came as the glorious, danceable and elaborate montuno finale of a typical of son cubano. It was all the rage during the 1940’s and 1950’s on both coasts of the USA.
The music of the Pacific Mambo Orchestra is not only rooted in this iconic rhythmic pattern and form of music and dance, but it quite vibrates with it and powers its way into your sensibilities with pomp and circumstance.
This is one of the most recognisable large ensembles on the West Coast of the US. It co-founders – keyboardist Christian Tumalan and trumpeter Steffan Kuehn – are both outstanding soloists, but have made sure that the group is known for the manner in which it plays its gloriously flamboyant charts. The result is music that gleams with a colourful brass section – trumpets and trombones that sing and dance around elegant and equally glitzy woodwinds section, together with a wall of rhythm led by Mr Tumalan.
Remarkably The III Side is just the orchestra’s third album. The “remarkable” aspect of this is that the band already appears to have the erudition and uncommon elegance of a group of musicians whose craft has been honed by years of refinement.
This speaks not only to the fact that its musical machinations function like a well-oiled machine, but more than anything else it is a testament to the musicians who make up the group and have a deeply interiorised relationship with the music, playing – as soloists and in ensemble – with idiomatic grace and elegance. Egoism and gratuitous versatility and ornamentation are assiduously eschewed. The focus is always on musicality. As a result of this music is melodically luminous and harmonically plush, with the muscularity of the rhythm section acting as the glue that binds it all into an impressive artistic edifice.
The ensemble plays these nine sinewy arrangements as if their collective lives depended on each note. As a result music flies off the paper and gathers like a bank of magnificent clouds in the air around the room. The group is also unafraid to venture outside the safe confines of what is conventionally acceptable of Afro-Cuban music. “Mambo Rachmaninoff” and “Fanfare for the Common Man” are two superb examples of this sense of adventure. The former piece is superbly arranged by Mr Tumalan and features – quite surprisingly for a spirited mambo – a wonderfully directed string quintet that plays not only with brisk eloquence but also in the joyful spirit of mambo.
In Aaron Copland, arranged by the groups own Aaron Lington, the heraldry of the original score is religiously maintained, while the group launches the work into the stratosphere with delightfully irreverent Afro-Cuban rhythms. Two songs composed by the great Dizzy Gillespie. The first is “A Night in Tunisia”, featuring the incomparable Jon Faddis on trumpet and with the Cuban, Dafnis Prieto rocking the Afro-Cuban rhythms. The second is “Birks Works” which features the other guest, Alex Britti on guitar. Both these tracks give notice of the group’s allegiance to Jazz – the music of Black America and rightfully so. “Omi Ye Ye” features a soaring vocal by guest star, Hermán Olivera.
The III Side raises the already-high benchmark of the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, further solidifying its soaring reputation as one of the best large LatinJazz ensembles in continental USA.
Track list – 1: Mr B’s Mambo; 2: Carnaval; 3: Mambo Rachmaninoff; 4: Le Temps D’un Horizon; 5: Through the Fire; 6: A Night in Tunisia; 7: Omi Ye Ye; 8: Birks Works; 9: Fanfare for the Common Man
Personnel – Brass – Louis Fasman: lead trumpet; Steffen Kuehn: 2nd trumpet; Niel Levonius:3rd trumpet; Jeff Lewis: 4th trumpet; Derek James: lead trombone; Mike Rinta: 2nd trombone; Jeff Cressman: 3rd trombone; Jamie Dubberly: bass trombone; Jason Thor: trombone [2, 3, 7, 9]; John Gove: trombone ; Jeanne Geiger: trombone ; Woodwinds – Pete Cornell: lead alto saxophone; Doug Rowan: 2nd alto saxophone; Benny Torres: 1st tenor saxophone; Tony Peebles: 2nd tenor saxophone; Aaron Lington: baritone saxophone; Steve Steinberg: 1st tenor saxophone [2, 3, 7]; Galen Green: 2nd tenor saxophone [2, 3, 7]; Rhythm Section – Christian Tumalan: piano, Hammond B3 organ and keyboards; Julio de la Cruz: baby bass and electric bass; Braulio Barrera: bongos, campaña and Peruvian cajón ; Javier Cabanillas: congas, clavé, maracas and güiro ; Omar Ladezma: timbales; Carlos Caro: congas and güiro ; Edgardo Cambon: shekeré and hauatca ; Armando Córdoba: maracas, güiro and drum programming ; Strings – Shaina Evoniuk: violin ; Anthony Blea: violin ; Keith Lawrence: viola ; Lewis Patzner: cello ; Sascha Jacobsen: bass ; Vocals – Armando Córdoba: lead vocals [4, 5] and chorus; Christelle Durandy: lead vocals  and chorus; Braulio Barrera: lead vocals [1, 9] and chorus; Special Guests – Jon Faddis: solo trumpet ; Dafnis Prieto: drums ; Hermán Olivera:lead vocals ; Alex Britti: guitar 
Released – 2020
Label – Pacific Mambo LLC 
Runtime – 54:03
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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