The heart gives a little leap when the first strains of the violin of James Sanders announce the maestro’s deep dive into his Afro-Latin heritage [his mother was Dominican] with this magical repertoire on Evidencia. The detour that the violinist made via classical music at Yale, before plunging into the world of Afro-Latin music paid off handsomely. His playing is informed by exceptionally [hidden] virtuosity – hidden because everything he does is attentive to the music at hand.
Melody, harmony and rhythmic perfection of the music at hand always take precedence over virtuosity. His tone is bright enough to carry any climax. Listen to the flashing brilliance of “Descarga” or the manner in which he tears into “Tiempo de Pensar”, with his navigating down on the lower strings producing a tone that is burnished and dusky, making for a catch in the throat of the unsuspecting listener. Together with [first] arranger and pianist Leandro López Várady [and then] the rest of the Conjunto, who are fully attuned to his artistry and Mr Várady’s as well. Each of the performers articulates the overall musical narrative beautifully.
This is not to say that, as individual interpretations, each soloist is anything other than coherent, lyrical and often extremely lovely. The performances on “Descarga” and “Latin Flow” are typical of these sorts of magnificent executions: svelte harmonies provided by the piano and powerful horns of Steve Eisen, towering rhythms by the percussionists – Luis Rosario and José Rendón, and the drummer Jean-Christophe Leroy; and the thunderous bass of José Porcayo – everything bends to the will of the music while highlighting the poignant virtuoso performances.
Above all it feels as if these performers have got the scale of this eloquent music just right: nothing forced; no obvious straining for effect, just fresh, thoughtful and command interpretations shot through with poetry and alertness. This is real Afro-Latin chamber music, highlighted by the lustrous violin of James Sanders. This recording will give you more and more as you return to it and may even end up blowing you off your feet by the time you peruse as early as the second time. Bravo James Sanders… bravo Conjunto…
Track list – 1: Arabesque; 2: Descarga; 3: Tiempo de Pensar; 4: Latin Flow; 5: Ukrainian Folk Song
Personnel – James Sanders: violin and leader; Leandro López Várady: piano; Luis Rosario: bongos and percussion; José Rendón: conga and bongos ; Jean-Christophe Leroy: drums; José Porcayo: bass; Steve Eisen: tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute
Released – 2021
Label – Amadeo Records 
Runtime – 42:03
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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