Featured photo of Jovino Santos Neto by Rhonda Stewart
Performing solo on a piano – even before a large audience – comes with a sense of profound solitude. Alone on stage [or in this case, with pianist Jovino Santos Neto, it effectively means being in a sound-proofed recording booth] the artist retreats into the interior landscape of his mind, to view and interpret thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions with a view to turning them into full-fledged songs [or poems or paintings, etc.]. The challenge becomes exponentially larger with the prospect of being seated at a magnificent concert grand piano – in this case, a Fazioli F278 – because the majesty of the sound precludes that its keys must be struck or caressed by a master.
This is exactly what you will hear in the repertoire of Luz by one who is – indeed – a master. Jovino Santos Neto is not simply that, he is an artist whose worldview is as profound as the musical tradition into which he was born. As a Brasilian, Mr Santos Neto is not only imbued with the unfettered alegria that comes with the territory of opening heart and mind to everything Brasilian, he also cut his musical teeth as musical director for O Bruxo himself – the great Hermeto Pascoal – for a decade and more. Now living in Seattle, USA, Mr Santos Neto distills all of his experience into a nearly-hour-long sojourn, alone with his beloved instrument: the piano.
The entire repertoire on this album is improvised; beginning with a central idea of exploring what it means to be bathed in the light of music. Luz, is therefore a mighty musical metaphor distilled into miniatures, each of which also stand alone as sound poems and narratives, evocative of the delightful madness of being touched by light. Each is also a complete song taking you into another world full not only of light, but also what happens when light descends upon the person of the artist. Each is a song of hope, doubt, sadness and ultimately joy. Some songs are familiar too – such as the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and Mr Pascoal’s celebrated song, “Bebê”.
However, no matter what the music brings; no matter what song unfolds, each musical missive is singularly Mr Santos Neto’s. This is clear from the fact that music speaks in a very special way to the pianist; it whispers its secrets in his inner ear, is processed in his mind’s mind and then ushered forth anew, from out of his fingertips. “Blackbird”, for instance, in its glissandi and dazzling runs and arpeggios, becomes a fluttering of the iconic bird’s wings as it takes flight in song and in life. “Bebê”, for which Mr Santos Neto has created a delightful new prelude, becomes a musical coddling of a thing of beauty; something to be summarily loved, worshiped and adored – a kind of homage to a Muse, so to speak.
Mr Santos Neto also presents other evocative miniatures – all of which are based on [and bring to life] some aspect of light – whether reflected from the mirror of the musician’s soul and through his eyes, or merely pronounced as if he were reciting the poetry of emotion. “Illuminado”, “Hoping for the Day” – both reflections on light [or Luz] are perfect examples. Elsewhere “Choro de Inverno” is a different kind of reflection – one that comes out as a cry, but turns out to be a joyful musical utterance too. And then there is the wickedly playful “A Cerca do Macaco”, which personifies the antics of our simian relatives dazzled – no doubt – by the light of day.
Wherever you go on this album, you will be seduced by the brilliance of light and the magnificence of sound as Mr Santos Neto turns the keyboard of this piano into a harp, a guitar, a drum, a contrabass, and a whole crashing orchestra – all of which bath each song in the brightness of light.
Track list – 1: De Mansinho; 2: Illuminado; 3: Hoping for the Day; 4: Choro de Inverno; 5: Blackbird; 6: Campinas; 7: A Cerca do Macaco; 8: Bebê
Personnel – Jovino Santos Neto: piano
Released – 2021
Label – Tiger Turn Records
Runtime – 51:04
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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