If the idiocy of so-called “cultural appropriation” were to be taken any more seriously than it is right now, would that ever make it possible for Zeynep Ozbilen to make Zest, her second disc after Zee? Moreover, now that she has done so, how would it ever be possible to enjoy it without being stared at, askance, by otherwise intelligent and reasonably educated Canadians and other North Americans? Here are the facts: Ozbilen is principally of Turkish cultural extraction, but now lives in Canada, as a Canadian. And, get this: she sings in Turkish, English and Spanish about Canada, Cuba, and heaven-knows where else. Best of all, she writes and performs (even so-called “standards” in Spanish) often better than very many artists native to those respective cultures, whose cultures she might allegedly be appropriating.
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Getting on with it, then… Zeynep Ozbilen is an artist who appears to be born into the art of music. Her contralto fulsome, replete with smoky vibrato and can just as easily be turned up to reach soprano registers, or down to grumble in lower tenors. Ozbilen can sound shy – as she does in “Zeynebim” – pleading – in “Papa Don’t Give Me Away” – beautifully melancholic – as she does in “Silencio” – and irresistibly seductive – on “Yemen Türküsü” and elsewhere… Songs speak to her and Zeynep Ozbilen listens – not just attentively – but with her heart and her heart beats, palpitates and even fibrillates In response, enabling Ozbilen to take songs exactly where they ought to be. It’s no surprise, then, that Zeynep Ozbilen employs a palette that allows her to unfold the world of imagination.
On stage (at the launch of Zest) Ozbilen is a riveting presence and her dramatic enactment of the song narratives allows her to be all of the characters in the songs, sometimes even simultaneously. Some of this might have been lost on record, but isn’t because Ozbilen brings protagonists to life. On Zest she is aided and abetted by a very fine group of musicians that includes the ubiquitous Jeremy Ledbetter, a multi-instrumentalist who also occupies the producer’s chair here and has enlisted support from drummers Marito Marques and Amhed Mitchel, bassists Roberto Riveron and George Koller, pianist David Restivo, flutist Jane Bunnett and the hugely talented trombonist Christopher Butcher and violinist Aleksander Gajic, to name some.
I don’t mean to make Zeynep Ozbilen a poster girl for the opposing side of “cultural appropriation”. But, sadly, all of this might not mean much to the cultural vigilantes, who seem to be upping the proverbial ante of stupidity by petitioning the United Nations to make so-called “cultural appropriation” a crime. But oh, these chaps might say, it’s truth and reconciliation time in Canada… So how about it? Since we’re not talking about plagiarism, but interpretation and expression, shouldn’t we be asking the question: do we really care about what art should and does unfold? There’s never been a better time for soul-searching…
Track list: 1: Zeynebim; 2: Los Bilbilicos Cantan; 3: Ay Dos Anyos; 4: Papa Don’t Give Me Away; 5: Yemen Türküsü; 6: Amapola; 7: Bülbülüm Alt?n Kafeste; 8: Silencio; 9: In the North; 10: Baba Beni Verme Ellere.
Personnel: Zeynep Ozbilen: vocals, compositions, and lyrics (4, 9, 10); Jeremy Ledbetter: piano, Fender Rhodes, guitar, percussion, backing vocals, arrangements and production; David Restivo: piano (8); Roberto Riveron: bass; George Koller: bass (3); Marito Marques: drums, percussion; Amhed Mitchel: drums (6, 8); Chendy Leon: percussion; Luis Orbegoso: percussion (3, 6, 8); Guests: Jane Bunnett: alto flute (3); Christopher Butcher: trombone (8); Ali Tolga Demirta?: piano (7); Aleksandar Gajic: violin (5); Mike Murley: tenor saxophone (6); Hüsnü ?enlendirici: clarinet (4, 10); Ernie Tollar: ney and woodwinds (1, 9); String Quartet: Aleksandar Gajic: violin; Aysel Taghi-Zada: violin; Vedran Curic: viola; Jonathan Tortolano: cello.
Label: Mondo Tunes/Really Records
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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