The stories of tea and its discovery—depending upon which part of the world they come from—are delightfully apocryphal. But the taking of tea is real and ceremonial although the stories told at that time may be once again exquisitely mythical. It is both the ceremony and the legendary narratives that fire up this wonderful album by Diego Urcola: Mates. Here, a series of fourteen sensuous, intimate and duets unfold, which makes the instruments that play them almost human. This harks back to the legend of the Guarani diaspora, traditionally spread across Uruguay, Paraguay, the Misiones Province of Argentina, southern Brasil and Bolivia; when, it is believed, the Goddesses of the Moon and the Cloud came to earth to meet, but were threatened by a Yaguareté. An old man saved them and in return, he was blessed with a gift of the yerba plant, from which is brewed the “mate,” which became the traditional drink of friendship. In celebration of this story, the musicians, led by Mr. Urcola come together and entwine in duos, building double helical edifices as they dance and prance around the omnipresent horn of Mr. Urcola swinging contrapuntally as they leap sometime free, held together only by the gossamer of musical harmony, exchanged between trumpet, and flugelhorn alternatively with double bass, harp, vibes and marimba, and bandoneón. Imagery is sometimes diffracted or, at other times with the exactitude of cubist architecture; the vibraphone sings, the bass rumbles with gorgeous overtones; the harp sparkles and the bandoneón gurgles marvellously as the music soars in the invisible steam of the simmering mate.
It is Diego Urcola and his glimmering, brazen horns that add the glorious colours to the music on this date. Mr. Urcola is a true master of tonal shade; his embouchure perfected by full lips and steaming hot breath that escapes them. The column of invisible, smoky lyricism departs his taut mouth dipping first into a gorgeous palette composed of the burnt tones of the sertão and interior from where the music leaps out and bursts forth with celebratory beauty, awash with myth and legend. With his unbridled virtuoso skills, Mr. Urcola’s music emerges out of a wellspring of traditions that criss-crosses Latin America as he makes anthropological stops in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brasil, as well as into Colombia and into the halcyon days of song in North America. Essentially, what the trumpeter is trying to and successfully creates is a musical “mate” ceremony where gossip and jabber is replaced by melody and harmony. And he does so with some of the most beautifully crafted music which is fit, incidentally, for a meeting of those mythical creatures where he (the trumpeter) becomes the old man saving them from the stealthy jaguar. His reward: “mate” of music which he turns into a gloriously harmonic journey together with his duo mate for each song.
Diego Urcola’s choice of musicians for each duet is truly inspired. To start things off there is the lusty and sonorous bass of Avishai Cohen in the invocation to “Eleguá,” and the unbelievable vertical leaps on “Gadu” by both trumpeter and bassist precedes the elegiac swoon of the con arco playing of Mr. Cohen as trumpet leads him on through the melancholic “Float” to the joyous strains of muted trumpet chased by the bounding pizzicato of the bass in Carlos Gardel’s silken classic, “El Dia que me Quieras”. The gasping bandoneón of Juan Dargenton is just as breathtaking through his series of duets from “ELM,” the skittering tango, “Milonga Para Paquito,” a wonderful homage to Mr. Urcola’s old boss and mentor. Trumpeter and bandoneón player are in unbelievably superb form on the brooding version of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and the myriad colours of “Final Waltz”. The Harpist, Edmar Castañeda, already a rare and gifted musician who excels at the difficult harp comes together with Diego Urcola in three songs. The first of these: “Colibrí” soars like an Andean condor as Mr. Castañeda plays the character of the Wind that rustles the trumpet, pushing it into the higher registers as if lifting the wings of the proverbial bird. Mr. Castañeda returns for the Ariel Ramirez’s classic “Alfonsina y el Mar,” a song that he provides fluttering lift to and counterpoint to Mr. Urcola’s mysterious and beautiful muted horn, just as it does in “Colombian Dixie”. When it comes for Dave Samuels to perform his star turn, Mr. Urcola traverses the Brasilian landscape with Egberto Gismonti’s beautifully complex chart “A Fala da Paixão”. Here Mr. Samuels struts majestically on vibraharp; elsewhere, as he does on “Preludio # 3” before doing a star turn on marimba, on the charmingly quixotic “Samba Pa’Dos”.
With this album, Diego Urcola makes great strides after his earlier Sunnyside release, Appreciation (2011) making his homages here more intimate and considerably glossier as he digs much deeper into his musical consciousness to make this magnificent music on Mates.
Track Listing: Eleguá; ELM; Colibrí; A Fala da Paixão; Gadu; Alfonsina y el Mar; Preludio #3; Milonga para Paquito; Float; Samba Pa’Dos; You Don’t Know What Love Is; El Dia que me Quieras; Colombian Dixie; Final Waltz.
Personnel: Diego Urcola: trumpet & flugelhorn; Avishai Cohen: bass (1, 5, 9, 12); Dave Samuels: vibes & marimba; (4, 7, 10); Edmar Castañeda: harp (3, 6, 13); Juan Dargenton: bandoneón (2, 8, 11, 14).
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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