The inimitable pianist, Rafael Zaldivar – like almost every Afro-Cuban musician – has never really left his heritage behind, no matter how far from his home he has ventured; in this case, as far as the city of Montréal, in Québec, Canada. But as much as Mr Zaldivar’s proverbial musical wagon is hitched to the cultural topography of Cuba, his expresses himself with a rare, truly singular degree of [Québécois?] musical freedom. Both of these characteristics may be heard all over his brilliant sophomore album, Rumba. What a thrill it is to find this uncommon melding together of tradition and invention.
Mr Zaldivar reminds us – in his brief album note – that the idea of the Rumba is an almost sacred kind of celebration of the African Diaspora – both Cuban and [more broadly] Caribbean. The idiom and inflections of musical speech are, of course extraordinarily varied. Yet, as rumbas go, this one is truly special. And here is what sets this music apart from anything you have ever heard before [and this is no hyperbole] – and ultimately why Mr Zaldivar emerges as one of the true geniuses of his instrument; an innovator par excellence.
The album begins with a reverential chant to “Eleggua”, the syncretized [in Santeria worship] great “Master of Force” [Yoruba], from whom everything flows. But soon the musical surprises come – fast and furious. “A Prayer” follows, and it features the fine alto saxophonist, Miguel Zenón playing Mr Zaldivar’s music as you have never heard him play: velvet-toned; almost hushed, which is so far-removed from the sharp vocalastic and brassy-tone with which he [Mr Zenón] usually plays. Thus the woodwind-like tones of the music float benignly over the rippling rhythms of the rest of the ensemble.
This is something the musicians continue to do – especially the guests who almost always seem to play “against the grain”, in order to interpret the eloquent idiomatic music that flies off the paper from which they are reading. There is a considerable sense of noble balance and integration of melody, harmony and rhythm, of composition and improvisation, of sophisticated exploration, individuality and tradition everywhere, and this is what sets this music apart in ingenuity and invention.
“Guajiro” is spun out like gossamer [guajira], from the heart of the traditional “Guantanamera”, the singing and dancing is at the heart of “Baila mi Changüi”, which features a delicate curlicue of a bass line that underpins what is really [at heart] a traditional and brilliantly crafted changüi, culled from its origins as it dances in time into our century. The invention continues with Mr Zaldivar revealing his virtuoso chops on such music as “Dolor de Amar”, a spectacular Brasilian musical adventure with [ever-so-appropriately] Kurt Rosenwinkel that traverses afoxé, maracatu de baque virado [“maracatu of the turned-around beat”] and capoeira heralded by the sound of ngoma drums [the atabaques of Yoruba candomblé], and every African idiom, dancing its way into this exhilarating music.
The recording is populated with individuals whose mighty artistry is spectacularly showcased: guitarist Mr Rosenwinkel and his seemingly symphonic approach to musicianship, drummer and harmonic colourist Terri Lyne Carrington is on song every time she is called upon to set up her rhythmic wall. The Santeria chants by father-and-son Amado Dedeu and Amado Dedeu Jr that power “Eleggua” to open the set and “Obatala” in the final prayer are appropriately reverential and magical. Masterful contributions also come by way of the perfect pairing of contrabassist Roberto Occhipinti with drummer Amhed Mitchel on the dolorous “Crying for Cuba”. This kind of magic is repeated again on “Tiempos de Amar”, this time with the muted beauty of the trumpet of Ingrid Jensen.
However, it is the surprises that come by way of songs such as “A Prayer”, “Guajiro”, “Dolor de Amar” and – for me at least, this recording’s twin-apogees – the monumental melodic, harmonic and rhythmic attack of “Baila mi Changüi” and “Short Blues” that make this recording something to die for. Most of all I would be remiss if I did not sing the virtuoso musicianship of the two relatively unsung Québécois musicians – especially the great rhythmists: bassist Rémi-Jean LeBlanc and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel. Together these two musicians make Mr Zaldivar’s music sound so much more meaningful rhythmically, harmonically, and – often – melodically as well. This is already the “Album of the Year” 2022.
Tracks – 1: Eleggua; 2: A Prayer; 3: Interlude; 4: Baila mi Changüi; 5: Guajiro; 6: Two Words; 7: Short Blues; 8: Dolor de Amar; 9: Alma; 10: Crying for Cuba; 11: Tiempos de Amar; 12: Obbatala
Musicians – Rafael Zaldivar: acoustic grand piano, synthesizer [1, 2, 8, 9, 11], vocals  and percussion [2 – 4]; Amado Dedeu [père]: vocals ; Amado Dedeu García Jr: vocals [1, 12] and percussion [1, 4, 5, 12]; Sara Rossy: vocals ; Dayron Luis San Juan Muguercia: vocals  and percussion ; Jorge Verona: vocals ; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar ; Ingrid Jensen: 1st trumpet ; Alexis Baro: 1st trumpet ; Jocelyn Couture: 1st trumpet ; Remi Cormier: 2nd trumpet ; Alexander Brown: 2nd trumpet ; Ron de Lauro: 3rd trumpet ; Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone ; Luis Deniz: alto saxophone ; Jean-Pierre Zanella: alto saxophone ; André Leroux: tenor saxophone ; Kirk McDonald: tenor saxophone; Pat LaBarbera: tenor saxophone ; Rémi-Jean LeBlanc: contrabass and electric bass [3 – 5, 7 – 9]; Roberto Occhipinti: contrabass ; Louis-Vincent Hamel: drums [3, 7 – 9]; Terri Lyne Carrington: drums [4, 5]; Amhed Mitchel: drums [2, 10] and synthesizer ; Carlos Henrique Feitosa: percussion ; Jorge Luis “Papiosco”: percussion 
Released – 2022
Label – Effendi [FND 167]
Runtime – 54:07
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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