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Manuel Valera Trio: The Seasons

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The Seasons - Manuel Valera Trio

The Seasons - Manuel Valera Trio

Was there a closet ‘renaissance man’ just waiting to jump out of Manuel Valera? Probably so, but although his recording of The Seasons references Vivaldi’s eternal series of four concerti making up The Four Seasons there is little to link the two works other than the title of Valera’s suite. This centrepiece of the recording is a series of four single-movement pieces and Manuel Valera’s playing is spirited and eloquently ornamented and serves its referenced mentor well. It ends there, however. “The Seasons” is a dark suite where the composer (and performer/pianist and his trio) visits several states of mind that change from expectation then hopeful, melancholic and finally foreboding, capturing the mood of the times, as it were, in the Americas and, indeed, the world. As such it is not only the single most ambitious work by Manuel Valera, but certainly his most breathtaking performance.

Within the framework of The Seasons are seven other pieces of varying mood and scale. Not all of them are composed by Manuel Valera, but they all signify changing times in the life and times of the pianist. Valera has always seemed to lean into the idiom of Jazz as he sought to forge the distinctive of his own. In his idiosyncratic and exploratory style his music has become thematically more challenging and boldly expressive, slipping the Afro-Cuban mooring ever so gently with each new recording. At its heart his music will always retain that cultural topography but now Manuel Valera seems less beholden to inner clave. This ‘breaking free’ to express himself may lead him back to his roots at any time; who can tell? For now, however Valera is putting on another skin. And he does wear this one rather well.

There is an easy swing in all of the work on The Seasons. It is clear from the ever-so-spritely song, “Opening” that this music is going to demand the listener’s undivided attention. Turn away and you might miss something extraordinary. With characteristically expressive pianism, Manuel Valera reveals a profoundly thoughtful side to his music. “In the Eye of the Beholder”, for instance, is framed with rhapsodic harmonic and rhythmic elements around which the riveting expressiveness of the melody takes flight. “Tres Palabras”, the only Cuban song is at once dreamy, yet crisply modern, complex yet rich in space and silence. In dramatic contrast is movement IV of “The Seasons – Winter”, in which there is an almost unbearable, icy tenderness that leads, in turn, to “What is This Thing Called Love”, a perfect vehicle to set up the album finale, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.

In solo performances there is absolutely no room for error and this is much the same with duos and trios. However, Manuel Valera has assembled two extraordinary virtuoso players: Hans Glawischnig on bass and E.J Strickland on drums. Both musicians deliver harmony and rhythm with relaxed grace and total lack of vanity; for they are musicians who just happen to play bass and drums respectively. And while both Glawischnig and Strickland are dazzling virtuosos they conjure tonal colours and expression through eye-popping articulation and deeply-felt emotion. It’s almost impossible to think how this performance would have sounded with other musicians on board and it is fortunate, indeed, that this is not the case.

Track List: 1: Opening; 2: In the Eye of the Beholder; 3: Tres Palabras; 4: Hopeful; 5: In My Life; The Seasons: Movement I: Spring; Movement II: Summer; Movement III: Fall; Movement IV: Winter; 10: What Is This Thing Called Love; 11: Hallelujah.

Personnel: Manuel Valera: piano; Hans Glawischnig: acoustic bass; E.J.Strickland: drums.

Record Label: MAVO Records
Year Released: 2017
Running time: 1:06:26


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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