Raw energy and elegant frenzy have been abiding concepts that drive the music of Papo Vázquez, who has thrown, together with his singular ensemble the Mighty Pirate Troubadours, every ounce of his ingenuity into this music. Chapter 10: Breaking Cover – consists of his burgeoning oeuvre and has all the makings of a high-water mark for the composer and trombonist’s stellar career. The “Breaking Cover” of the title refers to the band’s emergence into the pandemic lockdown to barrel their way into this new music, conceived and orchestrated by Mr Vázquez, of course.
His instrument – the trombone – is never very far from his lips throughout this blistering set, broken only towards the end of the disc to “weep” his way through an extraordinarily bittersweet ballad – “Shadows”, which is a soaring, doffing of the proverbial hat to his avowed heroes: John Coltrane and J.J. Johnson, a song on which the drummer Alvester Garnett also does yeoman service to with oh-so-eloquent brush-work.
In keeping with the element of forthright subterfuge suggested by the Breaking Cover of the title, the music is infinitely more explosive and only pauses for breath during the music of “Shadows”. While the spotlight shifts subtly from Mr Vázquez, who regularly switches the arc-lights to other members of his ensemble, The percussionists, predictably, carry the heaviest load. And they acquit themselves with outstanding energy that is always marked by extremely good taste. This is to say that the barriles are played with oodles of skill, always tempered by angularity and elegance often egged on by the resonance of Mr. Vázquez ‘s agogô bells.
True to form Mr Vázquez pulls out the stops in his music, weaving the traditional with his own singular take on it all. The disc’s mambo and rumba are signature tunes, each imbued with angular melodies, couched in exquisitely cultured harmonic conceptions. Both “NY Latin Jazz” and “No Te Rindas” are also packed with surprises. Vivid colours abound. As ever Mr Vázquez leads from the front. Most memorably, of course, Mr Vázquez revisits the inner rhythms of his beloved bomba, plena, cuembe and aguinaldo rhythms which light up the music each time he weaves the traditional Puerto Rican meters into the dancing music.
In the end we are left holding our collective breaths as we experience the work of a modern master traversing the extraordinary music of distinguished musical conventions, always inventing new ways to express the familiar life forms of a living tradition
Track list – 1: Mr Babu; 2: NY Latin Jazz Mambo; 3: El Cuco/The Boogeyman; 4: Saludo Campesino; 5: Fiesta en la Sanse; 6: Fairmount Park; 7: Shadows; 8: No Te Rindas; 9: Broke Blues
Personnel – Band of Mighty Pirates – Papo Vázquez: trombone, vocals, agogô bells and synthesizer keyboard; Ivan Renta: tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone; Rick Germanson: piano; Ariel Robles: bass and chorus; Alvester Garnett: drums; Carlos Maldonado: barril de bomba, pandero de plena, bongos, minor percussion and chorus; Reinaldo DeJesus: barril de bomba, congas, pandero de plena, minor percussion and chorus; Invited Guests – José Mangual Jr.: vocals, chorus [1, 4, 8] and bongo ; Dezron Douglas: contrabass ; Antonio Caraballo: guitar ; Antoine Drye: trumpet 
Released – 2020
Label – Picaro Records
Runtime – 49:05
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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