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Gabriel Chakarji: New Beginning

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Gabriel Chakarji: New Beginnings

The legendary Totó La Momposina, a musician of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous descent is at pains to tell anyone who will listen that there is a big difference between the two words “tradition” and “folkloric”. Belonging to a tradition, she says, means connection to her [Colombian] ancestors. She goes on to define her music in very specific terms: “While I respect the word ‘folklore’, to me it means something that is dead – in a museum. Traditional music, or the music from the old days, is still alive; many people are working with it and it is always evolving,” she says, excitedly and continues: “The people of the pueblo don’t know about ‘folklore’; they say ‘música antigua’, or ‘música de antes’ [before them].” But she doesn’t dismiss the word ‘folkloric’ completely; she redefines it as having evolved from ‘folclor’ on ‘conflor’, literally “with flowers”. “If you analyse the word romantically” she says, “it could mean that every word is a different flower, and I love this interpretation.”

How wonderful to encounter both these phenomena in the music of the Venezuelan composer and pianist Gabriel Chakarji. Clearly this young man sees himself – like Totó La Momposina does too – as part of a musical continuum. But he also acknowledges, albeit, by evocation in his music, that while tradition is a wonderful reality the inner dynamic of tradition is to always innovate. And so, in New Beginning Mr Chakarji looks to actively throw overboard melodic, structural and harmonic hooks that may have become expressively blunted with overuse. He then conceives the architecture for his music from what might – or might not – be left.

And so like the great Simon dynasty [with drummer and percussionist Marlon Simon, pianist Edward Simon and trumpeter Michael Simon], composer and percussion colourist Fran Vielma, the great cuatro player Jorge Glem, pianist  Luis D’Elias, vocalist Nella and a slew of brilliant artists who share the new traditional Venezuelan landscape, Mr Chakarji’s music – rooted in the joropo with sweeping elicitations of Los Llanos [the plains] of Venezuela – is propelled with an instinctive radicalism that comes from puréeing  the sublime traditional harmonic and rhythmic forms into volatile and combustible, ticking motor rhythms which ignite his pianism. Being the infectious musician that he is this exultation is spread to all of the members of his ensemble courtesy not only of pianism, but of the vocals of his musical alter-ego, Carmela Ramírez, who is also an artist of the first order.

None of this would be possible without the explosive percussionists – Daniel Prim and Jeickov Vital as well as longtime musical associate and drummer Jongkuk Kim – who, together with the powerful rumbling of contrabassist Edward Pérez, provide the music with a thunderous ignition, which flames are further fanned by the fiery trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and marvellous saxophonist Morgan Guerin. Music such as “No Me Convence” is typical of the repertoire that marks this album by one of Venezuela’s brightest new stars as a masterpiece. New Beginning may be the start of something truly important from a young man who may – surprisingly not reach his peak for some time to come. And when he does, prepare to have your breath taken away.

Track list – 1: Mina/San Millán; 2: New Danza; 3: No Me Convence; 4: Melodía de Agradecimiento; 5: New Beginning; 6: Voices; 7: Montuno Quince; 8: Norte y Sur

Personnel – Gabriel Chakarji: producer, composer, arranger, piano and background vocals; Carmela Ramírez: lead vocals and co-producer; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet; Morgan Guerin: tenor saxophone; Jongkuk Kim: drums; Edward Pérez: contrabass; Daniel Prim: percussion and background vocals; Jeickov Vital: percussion and background vocals; Orestes Gómez: sound design [3]

Released – 2020
Label – Independent
Runtime – 47:34

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

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.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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.

Deo gratis…

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 [9]

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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