To pay tribute to Mongo Santamaría and Thelonious Monk, two legendary musicians of this or any era is challenge enough; but to pay tribute to them combining their enduring legacy is and always will be a Himalayan task. However, the magnificent conguero, Wilson Chembo Corniel has not only succeeded in doing this, he has excelled at it. Corniel is not only a master musician and arranger himself, able to think and dream in many languages; he is able to paint musical landscapes in a myriad colours. On Afro Blue Monk he also shows himself to be an astute band leader, for here he has assembled a stellar group of musicians who seem to be together not only for their virtuosity, but also for the unique and singular voices they bring to this music. This is special not only for what it does to Santamaría’s classic composition made even more famous by Coltrane and Monk in a none too familiar dialect, but it actually conjures up glorious imagery of the masters themselves in their favourite settings—that is to say, dialogues between Mongo Santamaría and his congas, or Coltrane and McCoy Tyner and Monk with Charlie Rouse.
The difference here is that Chembo Corniel facilitates longing ache of Mongo Santamaría’s daughter, Ileana Santamaría’s gorgeous voice and Corniel’s congas as well as a harmonic discussion between the up and coming genius of pianist Elio Villafranca and the mighty saxophonist Iván Renta and again with Villafranca and elsewhere with the legendary trumpeter Jimmy Owens. On both—as on several other occasions throughout the record—these magical dialogues are enhanced with the majestic skills of Chembo Corniel himself. And what a beguiling experience it is when Corniel slaps the skins of his congas in a languid motion, turning one of the finest compositions of any time, “Blue Monk” into the dreamy Danzón or re-imagining the Santamaría song, which Coltrane made classic, “Afro Blue” into a stratospheric musical adventure. This is not to say that Corniel’s other masterpiece renditions of his tribute to the great Cuban pianist, “Emiliano” Salvador are any less beautiful, for they are every bit as memorable.
Chembo Corniel is a percussion colourist who stands head and shoulders above most of his peers. His great artistry is informed by his flawless technique, which he embellishes with his consummate taste. Few percussionists living today (Giovanni Hidalgo being one of those exceptions) are his equal in the stylish manner of his musical diction and striking accents. It is almost as if Corniel breathes life into the skins, stretched taut across the frames of his congas and batás. In fact Corniel is almost akin to an ancient druid who has some magical connection to the very force of nature that produces the echoes that pass through the gauntlet of time itself. In this regard, Corniel has a deep connection with the great ancestors, much like Santamaría and Monk had before him. With such a spiritual connection to music it is imperative that someone like Wilson Chembo Corniel must succeed. And this he most certainly does. In fact, this time around Corniel has surpassed himself with one of his most enduring albums.
Tracks: Emiliano; Afro Blue; Hey, It’s Me You’re Talking To; Danzón Del Invierno; Blue Monk; Claudia; Don Quixote; Deluge.
Personnel: Jimmy Owens: trumpet; Iván Renta: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophones; Frank Fontaine: flute, clarinet; Elio Villafranca: piano; Carlo DeRosa: acoustic bass; Vince Cherico: drums, guiro; Ogduardo Roman Díaz: batá; Diego López: batá; Wilson “Chembo” Corniel: congas, batá, percussion; Ileana Santamaría: vocals.
About Chembo Corniel
2009 GRAMMY NOMINEE Percussionist Wilson “Chembo” Corniel was born in Manhattan on November 22, 1953 of proud Puerto Rican parents and raised in the humble streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn. It was during these years as a quick-witted youngster that he had the privilege and honor to study with such luminaries of the Afro-Caribbean percussion tradition as, Tommy Lopez Sr., “Little Ray” Romero, Louie Bauzo, and Cachete Maldonado. Read more…
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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