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Kiki Valera: Vivencias en Clave Cubana

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Kiki Valera: Vivencias en Clave

It’s odd to think that a recording in 2019 could be deemed to have become “historic” upon its release, but this one – Vivencias en Clave (Featuring Coco Freeman – by Kiki Valera actually is; and it is historic in more ways than one. First of all, decades into his life as a musician – and that too one from the fabled Familia Valera Miranda with its almost 300-year-old tradition of music – Kiki Valera has only now made his debut recording. And that in itself qualifies to be an historic event.

Secondly – and this will appeal especially to the technically-minded – Mr Valera plays a modified tres and converted to a cuatro by adding an extra pair of strings. With this eight-stringed instrument (the traditional cuatro has four strings) on which he displays extraordinary virtuosity Mr Valera achieves a fuller, more rounded sound that is somewhere between the more traditional Cuban tres with three pairs of (double) strings and the six-stringed or twelve-stringed acoustic guitar.

Mr Valera’s cuatro adds a breathtaking lusciousness to the son cubano, guaracha, bolero and trova music that is on this album. His range and idiosyncrasy of attack and colours is dazzling. The music is traditional. Almost all of it has been composed by the vocalist Mr Freeman. But clearly, for both Mr Valera and Mr Freeman, the inner dynamic of “tradition” is innovation and there is plenty of this on the recording which sets off with terrific swagger as the ensemble launches into “Mi Son”.

The love of this extraordinary Afro-Cuban form swells and swoons magnificently, bolstered by some beautifully-rounded playing by Mr Valera. His reading of the music is refreshingly mellow, almost intimate and, above all, profoundly lyrical. Moreover, he offers unwavering support to Mr Freeman’s vocals and his soli are characterised by rhetorical flexibility, great skill and subtlety.

The vocalist, for his part, brings a romantic yearning to the lyric. He is able to create a rich and beckoning atmosphere around the breathtaking songs, which are further memorialised with his vivid storytelling. The sense of longing is dappled with a vivid sense of sorrow and joy and the manner in which he weaves the lyric into Mr Valera’s soli is entirely convincing. The rest of the musicians, naturally, react by giving off their very best when called upon to solo as well. Ensemble passagework is smooth and superbly entertaining.

Bill Tilford’s short booklet note confirms the historicity of this recording and sets the scene for one of the most exciting traditional Afro-Cuban ventures to come out of the USA, thanks to this beautifully recorded package from Origin Records.

Track list – 1: Mi Son; 2: El Caballo de Curingo; 3: El Perro de Juan; 4: Ferecía; 5: Se Quema La Chumbambá; 6: Desenfreno; 7: Déjame al Menos; 8: Homenaje a Panchita; 9: Para Continuar; 10: El Sinsonte; 11: Vivencias; 12: Berenjena y Quimbombó; 13: Mi Son (Radio Edit)

Personnel – Kiki Valera: cuatro, guitar, claves, maracas and coro; Coco Freeman: lead vocals; Carlos Cascante: lead vocals (2); Alexis Baró: trumpet; José J. Alayo: bass; Yanill Nario: bass (2, 7, 9) and coro (2, 9); Pedro Vargas: congas, bongos; Joshuah de Jesús: coro; Steve Guasch: coro

Released – 2019
Label – Origin Records (827890)
Runtime – 1:09:36

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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Featured Albums

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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