Australians in Cuba? That may well be so, yet this is a remarkable musical adventure that has resulted in a quite beautiful record and it reportedly began with one itinerant and adopted Cuban music aficionado, the late Arwyn Bryant. That it is told triggered off a chain of events which in turn led his classical ethnomusicologist sister, Gai to become a lover of all things Cuban as well. And look where that has landed us: with an outstanding record, Palacio de la Rumba: Talking in Cuban featuring Justo Pelladito. This is not merely a Cuban record, it is a deep dive into Cuban musical topography, into rumba, danzón and son, and into the very heart of Cuban culture.
There have been many recordings like this one, but none, in my memory, stand out as this album does; something so wonderful because it has Cuban alma, not simply percussionists playing in clave. That too would be difficult as it has been said by the great Israel “Cachao” López, who once rather precociously complained jazz musicians found it hard to play in clave. Not so, it seems and not only Dizzy Gillespie con Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie y Machito, but the Dutchman Nils Fischer and now Gai Bryant and Palacio de la Rumba: Talking in Cuban featuring Justo Pelladito.
Everything seems right in these sincere and poised accounts of Cuba because they are played con alma. There is a wild celebration here and only those who have been let in on the secrets of the Orishas and on Clave can decipher. There is a riot of tone colour in the ensemble passages. Certainly Gai Bryant knows more than many about tones and the colour palette from which she paints her musical portraits. All of this comes also from a deep feeling for the timbre of the instruments of the big band that she conducts with rare distinction. And speaking of alma and colour, you only have to listen to “The Girl With The Moon in Her Eyes” to experience what soul means to Ms. Bryant and her ensemble.
And so we have a recording of the works of an almost obsessive perfectionist and a performing band who are perfectionists as well. No wonder these works sound as polished as gleaming gems. As a composer who also plays reeds and woodwinds, she understands and writes for the instruments idiomatically – is never flashy, unlike some other more flamboyant younger contemporaries. This is a distinction that Ms. Bryant ought to be proud of for there is music here that you can’t help admire its many facets. Again the analogy of the gem comes to mind, not the least because of the visceral excitement that this music engenders in the listener.
I have listened to every one of the pieces of music on this disc many times over and I have to say it more than lives up to every expectation. The eighteen members of this ensemble parley with the familiarity of old friends, yet their playing always retains that sense of gracious etiquette associated with the Cuban comparsa (listen to “Columbia Cubanos”) and you will know what I am referring to. Nothing is forced or exaggerated or overly mannered; tempos, ensemble and balance – all seem effortless and intuitively right. These are in sum tributes to the music and culture of Cuba that are flawless in character – both of the composer and the performing musicians as well.
Track List: Pollo por Pescado; El Castillo de la Sirena; Palacio de la Rumba; The Girl With The Moon in Her Eyes; Columbia Cubanos; Luminoso; Talking in Cuban.
Personnel: Warwick Alder: trumpet; Eamon Dilworth: trumpet; Darryl Carthew: trumpet; Ray Cassar: trumpet; Danny Carmichael: trombone; Paul Weber: trombone; Colin Philpott: trombone; Martin Taylor: trombone; Craig Walters: tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute; Peter Farrar: alto and soprano saxophones; Mark Ginsburg: tenor saxophone; Paul Cutlan: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; Gai Bryant: soprano and alto saxophones and flute; Alister Spence: piano; Lloyd Swanton: double bass; Jeremy Sawkins: guitar; Fabian Hevia: drum set; Justo Pelladito: congas.
About Talking In Cuban Big Band
Talking in Cuban was recorded over two nights in a lovely small church situated in suburban Sydney. Sound engineer, Ross A’Hern designed and built a huge microphone tree inspired by Morton Lindberg to capture the best room sound possible. The music is raw yet true to the character of Cuban rumba, danzon and bolero including a venue piano that refused to play in tune! In keeping with the spirit of rumba the congas rise up above the ensemble. We hope you enjoy this introduction to these styles through Gai’s compositional lens. Read more…
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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