When Roxana Amed released her debut album Ontology, it was clear that a musician of prodigious gifts had been hiding in plain sight and that album was proof that it was time to emerge from the proverbial shadows into the limelight. However, no one could predict just how far – stratospherically-speaking – her star would ascend. Not until… Unánime… And this is just her sophomore release.
What makes the release of Unánime so special is that the music seems to explode from the nuclear corona of the sun, with melodies, harmonies and rhythms – indeed, at times with notes and her vocalastics, streaming like white-hot ionised plumes, fly off the page of and into the rarefied realm at heavensgate.
Miss Amed is on a mission, it would seem, to shatter the myth that any music that involves improvisation and comes from anywhere south of the United States be called “Latin-Jazz”. She addresses “musically” – and in the grand manner – the profound ignorance of the English-speaking world when it comes to understanding the nuanced world of South America.
She does not have to try too hard [to break the myth] because her music speaks to her as with a singularity that can only come from inhabiting a complex cultural topography that stretches from the Middle East to the entire sweep of the southern part of the American continent. Listening to Miss Amed sing is like entering a complex inner world where all of this music speaks to her the secret of her very soul.
This is how the Peruvian landó [“A Veces No, Siempre” featuring the young and exceptionally brilliant Tony Succar] can nestle cheek-by-jowl with a Cuban contradanza [“Los Tres Golpes” featuring Chucho Valdés] or a very inspired duet [“Duo Concertante – Primer Movimiento” with Colombian pianist Julio Reyes Copello]. The glue that holds all of this together the dusky contralto with which Miss Amed swoops down and soars upwards in song after song. It bears mention that no album could have had such a brazenly innovative beginning.
This one is propelled out of the gate with a brilliant interpretation of “Flamenco Sketches” – that iconic instrumental by Miles Davis which heralded one of the great partnerships in music [between Mr Davis and the great Canadian Gil Evans]. Miss Amed’s ingenious version is arranged by Kendall Moore.
What is so unique about this interpretation is that it takes the sound of Mr Davis’ trumpet sound squeezed out of his lips, dripping with emotion and sardonicism and turns it into a musical frieze using the darkest edges of Miss Amed’s iconic contralto. And it is made to play magnificently off the glimmering brightness of the flamenco guitar of the great Niño Josele.
From such a beginning does all the rest of the music of this brilliant album follows. Of course the album swirls in the constellations of superstars who guest from time to time but I would be remiss if I did not highlight the fact that none of this music could have sounded as memorable as it does were it not for pianist Martin Bejerano. Although the pianist is not listed as “music director” or bestowed with any such fanciful title [which he may all-too-justifiably deserve], his musicianship [not simply his pianism] is all over this very special album.
Tracks – 1: Flamenco Sketches; 2: Nueva Luna, Mundo Arjo; 3: Agua y Vino; 4: Dos Tribus; 5: A Veces No, Siempre; 6: En mi Soledad; 7: Los Tres Golpes; 8: Nostalgia Adina; 9: Duo Concertante – Primer Movimiento; 10: Adiós a Cuba
Musicians – Roxana Amed: vocals; Martin Bejerano: piano [1 – 8, 10]; Mark Small: saxophones [1, 4, 6] and clarinets ; Tim Jago: electric guitar [1, 2, 6]; Edward Pérez: contrabass [1, 2, 4 – 6, 8, featured soloists on 5]; Armando Gola: contrabass [7, 10]; Ludwig Afonso: drums [1, 2, 4 – 6, 8]; Dafnis Prieto: drums [7, 10]; Ramsés Araya: cajón and handclaps . Featured Guests – Niño Josele: guitar ; Pedro Aznar: voice and fretless bass , Spanish translation of Portuguese lyrics ; Chico Pinheiro: guitar ; Antonio Guillermo “Tony” Succar: cajón ; Chucho Valdés: piano [7, 10]; Linda Briceño: voice and flugelhorn ; Julio Reyes Copello: piano 
Released – 2022
Label – Sony Music Latin 
Runtime – 57:37
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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