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Letizia Gambi: Blue Monday

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Letizia Gambi Blue MondayThis debut performance on record by Letizia Gambi will be remembered for a very, very long time. What is striking is that this marvellous release comes not even a month after that marvellous release, phiLOVEsophy Valentina Marino broke in the US. If you thought the Italians have invaded the US, you would be absolutely right. Both albums have been produced by masterful musicians from this continent: the former by the great bassist Cameron Brown and Blue Monday by the ineffable Lenny White. The drummer has a wonderful track record as a producer, having already made his mark with the iconic Acoustic Masters volumes one and two.

Letizia Gambi, like Marino, is born to be a musician. I would go as far as to hazard a guess that Gambi, like Marino has near-perfect pitch. Gambi, for her part has given evidence of sublime craftsmanship, harmonic inventiveness and melodic flair. The thrilling opening, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ which melds the classic standard with Jackie Maclean’s ‘Dig” glued together by the Neapolitan chant inspired by the opera La Gatta Cenerentola, is a fusion that jump-starts the record. There is never a slack moment on this record. The Italian songs, from ‘Que Sera, Sera’ to ‘Sulo Pe’ Parlà’ and ‘Perchè Domani’and the fusillade of brilliantly-crafted English ones, Gambi sings with almost unbelievable intuition and dramatic intelligence. Songs like Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ are sung with gut-wrenching pain, while others are held in sensuous caress, like the profoundly beautiful ‘Skin to Skin’. Other highlights are songs – short stories told with just the right kind of ornamentation, and Gambi explores new shades of anguish and joy.

There is another reason why this album is ever so memorable. And that is, quite simply: Lenny White has produced it. White is a true master at musical production in the mould of classic producers such as Creed Taylor. Typically White will eschew grandiosity. Instead he brings his full talent to bear on natural feelings. He extracts nuanced performances from his musicians. There is enough evidence to suggest that he might have had an altogether easy time with Letizia Gambi. This is a vocalist blessed with a sultry contralto, and is born with a talent to adorn words with ethereally beautiful inflections. There is a fine use of dynamics and Gambi’s approach is also to elegantly execute vocals without frills; just deeply felt emotions complemented with lilting loveliness. What a way to seal the human heart.

Masterful performances are also turned in by some of the finest musicians in Jazz – Ron Carter is truly inspirational, pianists Donald Vega and Helen Sung adorn this album with much beauty as do Gil Goldstein, who also offers some beautiful arrangements – on ‘Que Sera, Sera’ and ‘When You Were Here’ but so does Lenny White, whose genius seems to pop up seemingly everywhere, including on superb arrangements that are all over this wonderful record.

Track List: Sweet Georgia Brown/Dig; True Love Remember Me (Recorda Me); Without You/Senz’e Te; Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be); Under the Moon; But Not for Me; Blue Monday; Back to Black; You’ll Say Tomorrow (Perchè Domani); When You Were Here; Skin to Skin; Sulo Pe’ Parlà; Perchè Domani.

Personnel: Letizia Gambi: vocals; Sam Williams: backing vocals (7); Helen Sung: piano (1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13); Donald Vega: piano (2, 3, 6); Pete Levin : keyboards (4); John Benitez: bass (1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10); Ron Carter: bass (2, 3, 6); Daryl Johns: bass (4, 11); Lenny White: drums (1 – 9, 11), percussion (11); Andrea Valentini: bass drum (1); Dave Stryker: guitar (2); Tom Guarana: guitar (4, 11); Nick Maroch: AC guitar (7, 10), guitar (12); Gil Goldstein: accordion (4, 5, 11); Hector Del Curto: bandoneon (8); Haley Niswanger: saxophone (4); Jisoo Ok: cello (7, 8, 9, 10, 13).

Label: ArtistShare
Release date: March 2016
Running time: 55:45
Buy album on: amazon

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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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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