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Roberto López Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra: Azul

Montréal has been called “Canada’s Cultural Capital”, and rightfully so. A fertile terrain for musical talent from all over the world, the second largest Canadian city is home to Roberto López since 1994, when he arrived to pursue…

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Roberto López Afro Colombian Orchestra - Markham JazzFest

Montréal has been called “Canada’s Cultural Capital”, and rightfully so. A fertile terrain for musical talent from all over the world, the second largest Canadian city is home to Roberto López since 1994, when he arrived to pursue jazz studies at Concordia University.

Roberto López Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra: Azul
Album cover – Roberto López Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra: Azul

A composer, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Colombia, Roberto López has become an important member of the vibrant Montreal’s multicultural musical family. In 2005, he formed the Roberto López Project with musicians from all over the American continent. This is an experimental group where every member brings to the table a diversity of cultural backgrounds and a whole array of musical influences. They released their first album, Que Pasa? in 2006, followed by Soy Panamericano in 2009.

The Roberto López Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra

In 2011, a new project is born, making a fresh cultural statement with Roberto’s fine arrangements and compositions. His take on popular, folkloric Colombian music of African/native roots is at the same time hip, modern, and respectful of the tradition. Finding points of connection between the music of traditional wind ensembles from the Caribbean coast of Colombia and North-American Jazz Big Bands and melding both in a fluid, seamless manner, took Mr. López many years of dedicated study and research. The final result, recorded on the album entitled Azul (2012 Curura Musique) is outstanding, presenting five of Roberto’s own compositions and five arrangements of popular songs penned by well-known Colombian composers. With Azul, the Roberto López Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra is gaining new fans within Canada, US and abroad. Roberto’s name now belongs to a list of respected practitioners and creators of Afro-Colombian jazz. Among them: Francisco Zumaqué, Justo Almario, Antonio Arnedo, Lucía Pulido, Pablo Mayor, Hamlet Fiorilli.

An Educational Journey Through Music

Azul takes us on an educational journey throughout the Colombian musical territory. Certainly Cumbia and Porro are two of the best-known musical products that the South American country has given to the world, but the richness and diversity of Afro-Colombian rhythms is incredibly vast. Along Cumbia and Porro, get ready to dig Fandango, Paseo, Champeta, Chandé and Mapalé. Those different rhythms are intrinsically associated with a specific region of the country. For example, Porro is identified with the departments of Córdoba, Sucre and Bolívar, and Cumbia with the municipality and town of El Banco, which is part of the department of Magdalena. The songs on Azul are presented in a grand manner, seamlessly fusioned with jazz elements. The music is at the same time elegant and funky, very danceable, with a Dixieland music kind of feel. So, get ready to jump from the Caribbean coast of Colombia to New Orleans, to the northernmost part of America and back.

The Songs

“Bocas de Cenizas” is a very uplifting tune, a combination of Chandé and Porro, “Blue Vallenato” is a more relaxed Paseo, “La Chiva” and “En Mi Corazón” are heated Porros and “San Pelayo” a combination of Champeta and Mapalé, all of them original compositions penned by Roberto López.

“Fiesta de Negritos”, “Plinio Guzmán” and Carmen de Bolívar are traditional Porros written by Luis Eduardo “Lucho” Bermúdez, a prolific composer who according to Mr. López “was at the same time the Colombian Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington”, and responsible for internationalizing folk rhythms and popularizing Cumbia and Porro throughout the continent”. A very interesting point stressed by Mr. López is that Porro, just like in Jazz, contains improvisation sections. “El Pescador” is a beautiful Cumbia composed by José Benito Barros and transformed into a sensuous tune with an almost hypnotic cadencious feel. “Tres Clarinetes” is a lively Fandango (performed with three clarinets). Truly a fitting tribute to its composer, Pablo Flórez.

The Orchestra. The Musicians

Besides composing, arranging and directing the orchestra, Roberto López is a talented multi-instrumentalist who plays ukulele, tiple (a plucked twelve-string guitar typical of Colombia), acoustic and electric guitars and percussion: maracas, llamador, caja vallenata, guacharaca, tambora. His guitar licks are funky, and his accompaniment imprints the music with a modern touch. Helping Mr. López to accomplish his vision there’s a solid rhythm section integrated by Fraser Hollins (bass), Massimo Sansalone (drums, campanas, tambora) and Kullak Viger-Rojas (congas, alegre, tambora). Plus a non-pareil smoking horns section integrated by Jean-Sébastien Leblanc (clarinet), Joel Miller (tenor sax, clarinet), David Carbonneau (trumpet) and David Grott (trombone). They certainly prove that Canadians make some of the best horn players on this planet. I had the opportunity of experiencing this terrific orchestra live in concert during the Markham Jazz Festival 2013. If you have a chance to see it make sure you don’t miss it.


Track Listing: 1. La Chiva; 2. Fiesta De Negritos; 3. Bocas De Ceniza; 4. Blue Vallenato; 5. El Pescador; 6. En Mi Corazón; 7. San Pelayo; 8. Plinio Guzman; 9. Carmen de Bolivar; 10. Tres Clarinetes.

Personnel: Roberto C. López “Pocho”: direction, guitars, tiple, ukulele, maracas, llamador, caja vallenata (track 4), guacharaca (track4), tambora (track 3); Jean-Sébastien Leblanc: clarinet; Joel Miller: tenor sax, clarinet; David Carbonneau: trumpet; David Grott: trombone; Fraser Hollins: bass; Massimo Sansalone: drums, campanas, tambora; Kullak Viger-Rojas: congas, alegre, tambora.

Guests: Christopher Smith: bombardino (tracks 2, 8, 9); Bruno Lamarche: clarinet #3 (track 9).

Label: Curura Musique
Release date: June 2012
CD Design: Elisa Montaruli, Roberto C. López
CD Cover Painting: “El viaje de los músicos” by Oswaldo Deleón Kantule “Achú”

Roberto López Afro Colombian Orchestra - Markham JazzFest
Roberto López Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra at the Markham JazzFest 2013 – Photo: Danilo Navas

Founder, Editor, Webmaster: Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report, That Canadian Magazine. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

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.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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.

Deo gratis…

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 [9]

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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