Tito Puente, “El Rey del timbal” was almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing Cuban son, mambo and cha-cha-cha into the ballrooms and auditoriums, contributing to the seminal idiom that came to be called Latin Jazz
First when he was hired to fill the drummer’s chair in Machito’s ensemble and later with his own groups, Mr. Puente was recognized from his flamboyant style and animated facial expressions and was invited by Machito’s to bring his pair of drums—a pair of highly tuned tom-toms, the “timbales” in Latin America—into the front of the orchestra. This is something that stuck and when the high-flying and inventive drummer set out on his own, adding vibraphone to his expanding battery of drums, he became even more recognizable for the excited yapping and rumbling of his timbales, redolent in the swaggering back-beat of Latin rhythms, heavily inflected in the African polyrhythms that came via African-Caribbean (mainly Cuban) music; his work on the vibraphone was equally innovative.
Tito Puente was a careful listener and growing up in Harlem, later playing at the legendary Palladium he was close to the mesmerising and revolutionary rhythms of Bebop. He probably heard Red Norvo and the ponderous and bluesy dalliances of Milt Jackson. Mr. Puente married the two, developing a distinctive swerving style that suited the chattering rhythms of Latin Jazz, a language with its own idioms and metaphors; its own spectral notes and accents and diacritical remarks that made its charts unique in all the world of sound. He fine-tuned his music to such an extent that the music of no one—not even the great Machito—was ever the same again. This boxed set produced by his old friend and curator of his music, Joe Conzo Sr. together with Sony Music/Latin, Quatro – The Definitive Collection contains the music of Tito Puente that revolutionized Latin music like few other musics except perhaps that of the legendary Bebo Valdés.
Tito Puente and his Orchestra / Carnaval Cubano / RCA Victor / 1956
Between 1956 and 1960, Tito Puente made several records—four to be precise—that have become enshrined in the literature of music as seminal works by a bandleader, who has come to be spoken of in the same breath as Duke Ellington. His music drew from Son, Mambo and cha-cha-cha and had such a unique impact on the heart’s ear that Mr. Puente became instantly beloved of fans and cognoscenti alike; so much so that he was mistaken for a Cuban musician. The first of these records was the seminal Carnaval Cubano a record that featured a mighty orchestra with seven trumpets, four trombones, six woodwinds and reeds and a rhythm section that was led by Mr. Puente and also included the fine bassist, Bobby Rodriguez and the pianist, Alvin Gellers. The musicians together create a proverbial wall of sound in the ensemble passages. But more than the girth and power of the orchestra it was the superlative compositions—eight of the eleven of which, were Mr. Puente’s—and the arrangements that created a myriad of colours, expressing a dramatic array of emotions from pure joy to ponderous melancholia. “Oye Mi Guaguancó” is a classic example of the latter and “Happy Cha-Cha-Cha” of the former.
But it is also the magnificent rhythmic advancements that Tito Puente made with this record that left an indelible mark on music. The soloists are flawless, playing short and breathtakingly on trumpet, trombone saxophone and flute. The music is immaculately modulated and pianist Alvin Gellers shows that he has impeccable tumbao as well. The heroic performances by Tito Puente, no doubt inspired the other musicians to give off their best. He plays with extreme virtuosity, with depth and also a wonderful degree of humour that came to characterize his playing throughout his career. “Mambo Buda” is a fine example of the many-splendored moods that Mr. Puente expressed. In the end, Carnaval Cubano turns out to be an album that drove the Maestro in the right direction to make the future albums featured in this wonderful boxed set.
Track List – Elegua Chango; Cuál Es La Idea (What’s The Idea); Pa’ Los Rumberos; Que Sera; Oye Mi Guaguanco; Yambeque (Mambo Yambu); Happy Cha-Cha-Cha; Mambo Buda; Cha-Cha-Cha De Pollos; Guaguanco Margarito; Cuban Fantasy.
Personnel – Tito Puente: Leader, timbales, vibraphone and chorus; Nick Travis: trumpet; Frank Lo Pinto: trumpet; Jimmy Frisaura: trumpet; Gene Rapetti: trumpet; Bernie Glow: trumpet; Andres “Merenguito” Forda: trumpet; Sam Seavors: trumpet; Alvin Gellers: piano; Bobby Rodríguez: bass; Mongo Santamaria: percussion; Willie Bobo: percussion; Carlos “Patato” Valdes: percussion: Candido Camero: percussion; John Rodriguez: percussion; Santo Ruso: trombone; Eddie Bert: trombone; Robert Ascher: trombone; Sam Takvorian: trombone; Jerry Sanfino: saxophones and flutes; Marty Holms: saxophones and flutes; Sol Schlinger: saxophones and flutes; Allen Fields: saxophones and flutes; Jose Madera: saxophones and flutes; Dave Kurtser: saxophones and flutes; El Viejo Macucho: vocal (10).
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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