Another tribute to Michael Jackson is not how the supremely-talented composer, arranger and percussionist Tony Succar would like his album to be remembered. And it is absolutely not how the album will be remembered. Unity pays far more than homage to the pop superstar. It is also far more than a Latin re-imagination of Michael Jackson’s work. But rather it is peep into the world of Mr. Succar who in just five years after his graduate musical performance, Live at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center, has—as a writer and performer—reached the pinnacle of his compositional and percussionist powers. That remains to be seen (he may scale greater heights in the future), but even if he never achieves anything better than this album, he has ample reason to be proud. This is a spectacular work of art, not because of the stellar cast of vocalists who grace the album, but because Mr. Succar appears to have got into the soul of Michael Jackson. Thus, Mr. Succar’s Latin Tribute… is a flawless album on its own merit.
Tony Succar has developed something of a reputation for edge-of-the-seat virtuoso risk-taking. While that perception is not true at all, this is an album of great virtuosity and I would be remiss if I did not say that his creator has not risked his life for every note of it. The playing here is eloquent indeed. The individual performers’ voicing is expertly balanced and transcriptions are not followed in the letter, but rather, in the spirit of Michael Jackson’s music. It is impossible to single out any one vocalist for special praise, for the lyricism and for the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic majesty that they bring to the music of The King of Pop. In fact the work is nothing short of scintillating. However, at the risk of being seen as favouritism, I must say that I am utterly seduced by the version of “Earth Song” by the devastatingly beautiful voice of La India. Mind you, Jennifer Peña’s and Obie Bermúdez’s “Todo Mi Amor Eres Tu” is not too far behind. What a treat it is to hear these venerable Latin-American artists give it everything they’ve got in a sparkling show of talent.
I could go on waxing eloquent about the music and the musicians who interpret the music of Michael Jackson, but that would defeat the purpose of a review that is meant to whet the appetite of the reader and not to divulge all of the secrets of the treasure. Suffice it to say that this is no ordinary Latin Tribute. It is a rocking rhythmic re-invention of the music of Michael Jackson. And if you know how impossible it is to achieve that then you will be able to peep into the world of Tony Succar’s maddeningly brilliant album. And it’s touching and toe-tapping in equal measure.
Tracks: I Want You Back; Billie Jean; Man in the Mirror; Sera Que No me Amas; Earth Song; Human Nature; Todo Mi Amor Eres Tu; Black or White; Smooth Criminal; They Don’t Care About Us; Thriller; You Are Not Alone.
Personnel: Produced and Arranged, and Percussion by Tony Succar; Featuring the vocals of: Tito Nieves; Kevin Ceballo; Jon Secada; Jean Rodriguez; India; Obie Bermúdez; Jennifer Peña; Michael Stuart.
Released – 2015
Label – Universal Musi
Runtime – 58:00
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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