Gabriel Vicéns has a vivid and idiosyncratic affinity for the guitar as can be heard on Days, a disc that spans what might seem like many hours of illuminated activity in a studio. The New York based Puerto Rican musician and guitarist writes in a style that might be termed rugged lyricism, with near-vocal lines and harmonies taking unpredictable directions. A certain sonic pungency – that stems from his complete immersion in the Puerto Rican tradition encompassing everything from Jibaro to Danza. Now in New York city there is a distillation of those rhythmic idioms with imaginative touches throughout, into the roistering Nuyorican experimentalism.
The music of Days is informed by the electric brightness that comes from inspired work not only with the pen, but with the fingers that manipulate guitar strings at the fretboard and on the body with a dramatic synching of both hands. The songs are longish, allowing the guitarist and the other principal melodists to stretch the elasticity of the music to the maximum. Meanwhile almost imperceptibly Gabriel Vicéns uses vivid tonal colours wrapped around melodies in ways that suggest the challenges that the use of mixed metaphors (Jazz and Latin) often presents. “Morph” is a fine example of this kind of playing. Meanwhile in “Doing Circles” the voices of Gabriel Vicéns, Jonathan Suazo on alto saxophone and David Sánchez on tenor saxophone together with Alex Sipiagin on trumpet explore the various hues of the piece in close communication.
“Breaking Through Shadows” is a portentous work. Its necessary shadowy melodic inventions are vividly transposed to a rhythmic base that hold up the dark canopy of the harmonic interaction between the performers in the septet. The playing through is sublime, operating interpretatively on different, perhaps healthier planes that what others might be able to achieve, and in an authentic Latin-Jazz sort of way. The intensity is real and sounds gorgeous, the rhythms infectious, not the least because of the presence of Paoli Mejías‘ muscular percussion. It’s the kind of music that would drive an audience wild if performed on stage.
Gabriel Vicéns is an exceptional artist, with a shimmering sense of sonority and the ability to find a keen balance between poetry and intensity. With the rest of the ensemble providing their own superb brand of animation, this recording also stands out as a meeting of equals.
Track List: El Teatro; Days; Morph; Prelude to Amintiri; Amintiri; Doing Circles; Comprehend; Breaking Through Shadows; Justice.
Personnel: Gabriel Vicéns: guitar; Jonathan Suazo: alto saxophone; Bienvenido Dinzey: piano; Dan Martínez: bass; Leonardo Osuna: drums; David Sánchez: tenor saxophone (1-3, 6-9); Alex Sipiagin: trumpet and flugelhorn (1-3, 6-9); Paoli Mejías: congas and shaker 2 & 8).
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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