Ray Mantilla may be better remembered for his being one of the founding members of Max Roach’s legendary drum ensemble, M’Boom, but in reality that came after he had made several forays into the world of African-Cuban music in the early 50’s, playing in his beloved New York City, with the likes of Xavier Cugat and Lou Pérez. Then his musical credentials began to be enriched by tours with Eartha Kitt, Al Cohn and Larry Coryell, to name a few before helping found M’Boom. His varied experiences with Don Pullen, Charles Mingus and Muhal Richard Abrams took him to many places and involved a myriad of settings before he returned from time to time, to the metaphor of Latin Jazz. It is this language that he preaches his gospel in The Connection. On this record, more than ever, Mr. Mantilla displays all of skill on an assortment of percussion, centred around the tumbadoras.
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Mr. Mantilla plays in a muscular manner and his approach to the tumbadoras and the timbales is as thunderous as it is intricate. His thick and calloused hands move in a proverbial blur as he brushes and thumps the skins of the congas that are stretched in various tensioned settings to provide angular microtonal variations so as to enable the essaying of a melody if he should so choose to play one. There are subtle variations here: sometimes he plays a magnificent tattoo with the back of his gnarled knuckles, or he might even create a harmonic progression within a polyrhythmic line with the flat of his mighty palms, alternating that with a rapid-fire series of notes with his fingers. In this way he mesmerises in the most seasoned ears, which is not, of course, his intention; except that he wishes to and does create the most wondrous Donner und Blitzen of a song. There is a wonderful example of this in Mr. Mantilla’s playing on “Pieces” a tour de force by one of the great percussionists of any era.
It is possible to assume that Ray Mantilla does not get the credit he deserves, raised as he was in NYC. Fools might suggest that he is not the real thing, which is one of those anomalies that goes with playing, but not hailing from one or other of the islands of the Caribbean, and God-forbid he is not from Cuba. This is a typically American foible with a relatively recent history, now almost distorted by a tea-party mentality. But Mr. Mantilla has an Afri-lectic sensibility, to borrow a term from the Cuban pianist, Omar Sosa. Embedded in his ancient ancestry is a system of roots that stretch from America to Africa and for this he has paid his dues ever since he could read the alphabet, perhaps. He is an American, no doubt and because he may also have roots in Puerto Rico the staccato cut and thrust of African polyrhythms is also combined by the angular sashaying of Latin beats. There is remarkable connecting of these dots forming a vast cultural topography from “Andean Fantasy” and “Los Apolypticanos” through “Psalm 107,” “El Carnavalito” “Homenaje a San Rafael” and “Sonando Puerto Rico” and likewise from Europe and Africa to the Americas via New York City of course.
In all of this, Ray Mantilla is not alone; he has a marvelous ensemble that helps carry the music forward in a heavenly manner. The horns—Willie Williams and Enrique Fernández—are magnificent throughout. Mr. Fernández plays almost all saxophones and is heard on baritone saxophone and flute. He brings a beautiful erudition and a gravitas that ought to have given him a more wide acceptance. Instead he still is known only among the cognoscenti, which is not a bad thing, but might have added a few more records to his career as a leader if he were better-accepted in the so-called industry. At any rate he plays with a rich, moist tone on baritone saxophone and adds soaring harmonies that seem to emanate from the very bottom of his gut. Willie Williams is not much different and soars like an Andean condor whether he is playing tenor or soprano saxophone. Guido González is brilliant in his all-too-short appearance on the album. Edy Martínez is an astounding pianist, always bright and percussive; always on point with a swinging tempo and con tumbao. Cucho Martínez skips behind and ahead of the beat with a gentle and mightily rumbling bass and Bill Elder plays with uncanny empathy for Ray Mantilla. It bears mention that every member of the ensemble brings something wonderful to this group and even if this may have taken multiple takes and splices to produce what is ultimately forever burned on the record, it is all well worth the effort as this album has ultimately become one for the ages.
Track Listing – Andean Fantasy; Los Apolypticanos; The Simple Life; Psalm 107; El Carnavalito; Homenaje a San Rafael; Pieces; New Moon; Sonando Puerto Rico; Blues For Ray.
Personnel – Ray Mantilla: percussion; Willie Williams: tenor and soprano saxophone; Enrique Fernández: baritone saxophone, flute (1, 2, 5, 9, 10); Guido González: trumpet (1, 2, 7); Edy Martínez: piano; Cucho Martínez: bass; Bill Elder: drums.
Label: Savant Records
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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