“History was made in Havana Cuba in May 2022,” Josef Engels tells us in the booklet notes to the album Existential Intensities, “when a German won one of Latin America’s most important music awards.” The award in question refers to the Premio Internacional presented during the Cubadisco Festival, and the musician in question is the intrepid pianist Sebastian Schunke who received that award for Elusive Beauty, an album featuring drummer Diego Pinera.
The music on that memorable album was evocative of what the pianist and composer described as Fourth Stream, a highly individualistic musical collision based on Western harmonic modes and the highly meaningful intricacies of Afro Cuban rhythms. Clearly the jury had no doubt in their collective minds that Mr Schunke had arrived at something worth celebrating. While the competition may have been fierce Mr Schunke ended up winning the prestigious award.
On Existential Intensities Mr Schunke attempts to take those ideas to the next level by entering a musical dialogue with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, the Cuban rumba ensemble driven by the powerful, rolling thunder of guaguancó, yambú, columbia and abakuá. The album also features two encounters with Grupo Ojundegara, a vocal ensemble comprising musicians of Dahomey descent, also from Matanzas, and specializing in music based on spectacular ritual chants arising out of their Dahomeyan origin known as Arará.
Mr Schunke’s existential pursuit is unveiled in a three-part sequence entitled “Epilog,” which in turn, forms the glue that fuses the pianist free-form improvisations based on the western modes, and spread across the album comprising three other original works – performed by the group Berlin Brew, comprising bassist Nick Dunstan, drummer Moritz Baumgärtner, percussion colourist Robby Geerken and saxophonist Philipp Gropper. And three tracks with Trois Femmes, comprising Yodfat Miron, Laure Maurat and Isabelle Klemt.
The resultant music is of secular nature, which content contrasts with the syncretized spiritual nature of the chants into which Mr Schunke’s music fuses itself, forming the DNA of what become his Existential Intensities.
The music is almost a guilty pleasure: exquisite harmonic and rhythmic sojourns unstained by intellectual complications, music of sacred and secular origin woven together in a web of graceful crisscrossing each other with colourful gracefulness. The music certainly bubbles with joie de vivre, but the music doesn’t play itself, and the distinct attraction of this performance, throughout, is the way in which orchestral colour from the ensembles, as well as the piano texture is clearly defined and zestfully articulated on the rippling bell-like groove that underlines the opening Abakuá, for instance.
That is certainly true of all the music with Afro-Cuban performers. The more overtly dramatic, and meditative works – Mr Schunke’s originals – make their [highly individualistic] points, and the shifts of mood and sonority are seamlessly made. By the time the recording ends, all the music has caught Mr Schunke and the other performers in a joyful – sometimes, even riotous – mood, most piquant in his use of instrumental timbres on Der tanzende Klang.
Mr Schunke once again displays both tenderly voiced lyricism [in Her Dance] and whiplash emphasis everywhere else. Best of all Mr Schunke has created a valuable musical palimpsest with his unique and valuable insights into Afro-Cuban folkloric music. This will certainly please even the most seasoned, discerning aficionados of Afro-Cuban musical culture.
Sebastian Schunke & Los Muñequitos de Matanzas: Abakuá – Existential Intensities
Music – 1: Abakuá [versión de ritual folclórico Abakuá]; 2: Her Dance; 3: Colocolo midié [folclor afrocubano]; 4: Epilog II; 5: Fighting the Evil; 6: Epilog I; 7: Cantos a Ferekete [folclor afrocubano]; 8: Yemaya [version de ritual folclórico]; 9: El tahonero [Jesús Alfonso]; 10: Der tanzende Klang; 11: Epilog III.
Musicians – Sebastian Schunke: piano; compositions [2, 4 – 6, 10, 11; Los Muñequitos de Matanzas – Diosdado Enier Ramos “Figurin”: lead vocal, choir and catá [1, 8, 9]; Juan Raúl Martínez: lead vocal, choir [1, 8, 9]; Yuniscleyis Ramos: lead vocal, choir, campana and clave [1, 8, 9]; Rafael Navarro “El Niño”: lead vocal and choir ; Denis Fernández: lead vocal, choir and shékere [1, 8, 9]; Reyniel López: lead vocal and choir [1, 8, 9]; Ana Pérez: choir [1, 8, 9]; Freddy Jesús Alfonso: tumbadora, abakuá drum and cajón [1, 8, 9]; Eddy Espinoza: tumbadora and abakuá drum [1, 8, 9]; Agustín Díaz: tumbadora and abakuá drum [1, 8, 9]; Luis Davis O. Ramos: batà, clave, and shékere [1, 8, 9]; Jaime O. Ramos: batà, abakuá drum and shékere [1, 8, 9]; Dayan Ramos: batà, campana and catá [1, 8, 9]; Barbaro Ramos: baila [1, 8, 9]; Grupo Ojundegara – Teresa Mederos [Tere Arará]: lead vocal, choir and clapping [3, 7]; Esperanza Mederos Gómez: choir and clapping [3, 7]; Suilen Mercedes Torres Mederos: dance choir and clapping [3, 7]; Pedro Torriente [Nanacho]: oggan and clapping [3, 7]; Luis Berriel: junguede [3, 7]; Orestes de Aramas: juncito [3, 7]; Evangelio Izquierdo Baro [Anda]: junga [3, 7]; Berlin Brew – Nick Dunstan: contrabass [2, 5, 10]; Moritz Baumgärtner: drums [2, 5, 10]; Robby Geerken: tumbadora, small percussion and voice [2, 5, 10]; Philip Gropper: saxophones [2, 5, 10]; Trois Femmes – Yodfat Miron: viola [4, 6, 11]; Laura Maurat: flute [4, 6, 11]; Isabelle Klemt: cello [4, 6, 11].
Released – 2023
Label – Connector Records [60025-2]
Runtime – 53:58
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