By the end of 2018 Lauren Henderson will have not one, but two, releases. The first of these is Ármame and it is a recording that showcases the African as well as the Hispanic side of her fascinating heritage. This has also made for a most fascinating journey where Miss Henderson has traversed a breathtaking musical topography, an expedition she charted for herself from a very young age, which, in turn, resulted in a debut recording in 2011 that bore just her name. In seven years – a very short time for a vocalist so young to show such outstanding maturity – Miss Henderson’s voice has developed into a smoky, yet lyrical one with a range that enables her to move effortlessly from a high soprano to a blossoming contralto. With this taking place at such a remarkably young age, there is every surety that a greater fullness is yet to follow.
In the unusually echoey acoustic of the studio Miss Henderson shines amid a starry constellation of musicians, among whom are alto saxophonist Godwin Louis, trumpeter Josh Evans, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington – heard here as vocalist only, on Larry Willis and Terese Epp’s erudite “To Wisdom the Prize” and the uplifting “Better Days” from Richard Holland’s songbook. And then there is Sullivan Fortner, who has rapidly become quite ubiquitous, who leads an impressive ensemble – including a breathtaking rhythm section of Eric Wheeler, Joe Saylor and Nanny Assis – and who helps Miss Henderson sculpt the beguiling songs, contributing many breathtaking inventions along the way.
The music begins with “The Great City” and lyrics in Spanish by Miss Henderson. The song’s swiftly changing moods are each surely caught by Miss Henderson in precisely a couple of minutes or so. The complexities of the song demands virtuosity from its performers and from the listener too, as he or she adjusts to a new mood only to be required to move to a new one shortly after. This is, indeed good practice especially for the listener who is treated to virtuosity of an exquisite kind by the chameleonic Miss Henderson.
Her song “Tanto Amor”, for instance is twilit and melancholy, written in a profoundly thoughtful moment no doubt. This recording would suggest that Miss Henderson picked the perfect sounding board to perform it in the form of Mr. Fortner who is infinitely sensitive to every slight inflection of colour in Miss Henderson’s voice as well as to the timbral presence of the rest of the musical cast. These are just a couple of instances on a memorable, hour-long musical exposition by Miss Henderson where the listener ought to expect a full voice that also combines great tranquility. And this is what makes Ármame a disc to simply die for…
Track list – 1: The Great City; 2: To Wisdom the Prize; 3: Love Is a Losing Game; 4: Let Me Love You; 5: Tanto Amor; 6: The Old Country; 7: Inside a Silent Tear; 8: El Ritmo; 9: Better Days; 10: Ármame; 11: Open Your Eyes; 12: We’re Still Friends; 13: Todo Tiene Su Final
Personnel – Lauren Henderson: vocals; Terri Lyne Carrington: vocals (2, 9); Josh Evans: trumpet; Godwin Louis: alto saxophone; Nick Tannura: guitar; Sullivan Fortner: piano and Fender Rhodes; Eric Wheeler: bass; Joe Saylor: drums and percussion; Nanny Assis: percussion
Released – 2018
Label – Brontosaurus Records
Runtime – 1:04:48
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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