This album from the Québec-based Rafael Zaldívar entitled Consecration is completely sonically apposite to almost anything Afro-Cuban you might be used to listening to. An extraordinarily gifted pianist, Mr Zaldívar was born in the south central Cuban province of Camagüey, which would likely make him ancestrally-speaking from Fon, Ewe, Popo, Mahi, and other some ethnic group, from the Kingdom of Dahomey, and it would also explain his visceral tendency towards the religious practice and music aligned with “Arará”; native to Dahomey and to Cuba, where it was exported ages ago. All of this makes Mr Zaldívar’s 2019 spiritual and sonic journey on Consecration uniquely different from anything recorded by a musician of Afro-Cuban origin anywhere in the world today – including Omar Sosa, who because of the innate spirituality of his music, would invariably come to mind.
Mr Zaldívar is a daring improviser who extends his penchant for musical adventure in melodic, harmonic as well as rhythmic ways. But it is the application of his ideas and the voice of his inner aural voice that is most interestingly expressed in his novel use of prepared keyboards; the innovate sound world that he creates and magnificent array of colours and textures that result and eventually make for nuanced expression of each subtle change in emotion that occurs as the pianist passes through the rite of passage en route to his proverbial Consecration.
The music then – right from “A Rock con Leche” through to the final sigh of “Aché (Through the Consecration)” is replete with a shared or collective ritual and (mostly) quiet narrative – until you get to “Congo” and to the chants of Amado Dedeu and the hypnotic pianism of Mr Zaldívar. This ultra-variegated, delicate and dense music gets the full treatment with nuanced vocalastics by Mireille Boilly as she swoops low; then flutters high with Mr Zaldívar accompanying as he coaxes the harmony from both piano and the keyboard with which he overlays a myriad of colours.
This chart, “Simple Talking” is, perhaps, the most memorable of the disc. It’s easy to imagine this ultra-exacting composer becoming lost in thought as this piece unfolds, whose lonely beauty is only revealed when it finds its true equilibrium. If you thought the playing there could not be topped, then wait until that song melts literally into a (literally unforgettable) version “Unforgettable”.
This music is a testament to the unmatched musicianship of Mr Zaldívar, the fingers of whose hands speak most powerfully in their quietude as from out of the depths comes a profoundly voice as it essays a proper treasure trove of music.
Track list – 1: A Rock con Leche; 2: Arará; 3: Manifested Creation; 4: Rezos; 5: Afro-Cuban Warriors; 6: When I Think of You; 7: Obatalá; 8: Eternel Creation; 9: Congo; 10: Simple Talking; 11: Unforgettable; 12: Te Recordaré; 13: Aché (Through the Consecration)
Personnel – Rafael Zaldívar: piano, vocals and prepared piano; Rémi-Jean LeBlanc: electric bass (5); David Gagné: contrabass (11); Mireille Boilly: voice (6, 10); Amado Dedeu Jr.: percussion (2, 7, 9, 12, 13) and voice (2, 12, 13); Amado Dedeu: voice (2, 12, 13); Michel Medrano: drums (1, 5, 7); Eugenio Osorio: congas and percussion (1, 5, 7, 11, 12)
Released – 2019
Label – Effendi Records (FND 153)
Runtime – 56:10
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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