Well on the way to discovering their individual voices four high-school students who call themselves the Guess Who Jazz Quartet decide to place on record nine songs that say who they are right now. You have to respect the courage it takes, the dedication, discipline and enthusiasm that it takes to make a disc. And you will be rewarded for here is music that is forthright, more than merely enthusiastic and not there because the group had nothing to say, but it’s good music that speaks to the character of each of the musicians. Remarkably, even with a revolving door for the musicians in the band, there is also a remarkable sense of cohesion, which is not simply had by playing in a garage.
This is not the music of lesser mortals. It is carefully crafted, picked, as it were, from an enormously grand orchard rather than a family backyard. The music has been wonderfully arranged and it shows off the broad palette of colours and tone textures that inform the saxophonist and flutist leader of the band, Edward Ortiz’s playing. His playing is dry, but not without warmth. You hear none of the vibrato with which many of his contemporaries would be tempted to play. Rather you hear a quiet perfectionist who polishes these songs into small, but brightly gleaming gems. Listen for this in Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” and in Kenny Garrett’s “Happy People”. The Guess Who Jazz Quartet is on song.
I have enjoyed every one of the songs on this disc. Puerto Rican aficionados would do well to take note of the Guess Who Jazz Quartet. Indeed young musicians everywhere would do well to take note. This is not a high-school dissertation. It is an ensemble playing as if they were old friends. Yet the playing here retains a sense of gracious etiquette associated with the noble music conservatoires that now dot the world. These young musicians may not be ready for the big bad world of New York, where every young musician dreams of getting to. But with continued dedication, enthusiasm and a never-say-die attitude they are sure to make it there.
I would be remiss if I did not also speak my mind on the performances of pianist Julio Boria, bassist Richard Peña and of course the spunky drummer, Laura Crespo. Each of these young musicians makes important contributions to the music here. Everything seems right in their sincere and poised accounts of the songs in the programme. They play with an intimacy that is characteristic of musicians who exchange ideas in secret. Their contributions are big-bones and generous and huge overall. I for one would be looking forward to the next record by the Guess Who Jazz Quartet and I suspect that I would not be disappointed. Nor would I be surprised by anything but their own sound of surprise.
Track List: Welcome; Soñando con Puerto Rico; Caravan; Sonar; Para ti; Querube; Isora Club; Amanecer Borincano; Happy People.
Personnel: Edward Ortiz: flute and tenor saxophone; Julio Boria: piano; Laura Crespo: drums and percussion; Richard Peña: bass; Raúl Maldonado: bongó (2 and 9), güiro (4); Ricardo Pons: soprano saxophone (3); Fabiola Mari Méndez: Puerto Rican cuatro (4 and 8); Eguie Castrillo: timbales and congas (5); Rocío del Mar Portes: soprano saxophone (7); Charlie Sepúlveda: trumpet (8); William Javier Machado: drums.
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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