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Miguel de Armas Quartet: Continuous

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Miguel de Armas

Miguel de Armas has always come across as a musical voluptuary, born of a kind of rhythmically seductive pianism with which we first heard him in the legendary N.G. La Banda, an ensemble of which he was a charter member in the late-1980’s. The same visceral energy that propelled his work from the keyboards chair, bringing forth roars of approval from adoring crowds – particularly in Europe – is now the flavour of his later Canadian ensembles.

The breezy elegance of Mr De Armas’ music can once again be experienced on his 2021 disc Continuous. The repertoire on this album is immediately evocative of the pianist’s Afro-Cuban roots; his penchant for turning on a dime from a composed section to the proverbial descarga is what informs all this music, and his powerful montuno often adds enormous colour to the improvisatory passages that are launched when you least expect them. Adding the radiance of the Fender Rhodes on top of the layered legato passagework performed on the concert grand adds a shimmering, metallic tone texture to the music, brightening and otherwise pianissimo section to brilliant effect. “Angelique” is a fine example of this tintinnabulation effect.

Yasmina Proveyer adds her lustrous voice to the opening chart, “Continuous”, voicing wordless leaping vocalastics. The other big draws here are the presence of Toronto bassist Roberto Riverón [who also returns on “Angelique”]. Marquee names also include drummer and timbalero extraordinaire, Samuel Formell and conguero Joel Cuesta – both from the legendary Los Van Van, the former being the son of the group’s founding supremo, Juan Formell, of course. All of this brings a bristling energy to an already vivid piece. “Welcome Back from Varadero” is another propulsive song and showcases the spirited percussion colours of another brilliant conguero, Eliel Lazo.

Mr De Armas has many other stellar invited guests who are active members of the Toronto and Ottawa Afro-Cuban music scene, and they all bring a special kind of musicianship to this repertoire. Violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez is – predictably – superb on “Eva Luna”, as is cellist Gabriella Ruiz. I would be remiss if I did not mention the other [regular] members of Mr De Armas’ quartet. Each of the musicians – who help set up a thunderous rhythmic wall, no less – are completely attuned to the leader’s vision and artistry and you cannot praise each of them enough for their spirited performances. Bassist Marc Decho makes an extra-special contribution in the form of a heartfelt tribute to the legendary Bebo Valdés. The bassist’s “Song for Bebo” may be the apogee of this eloquent and artfully produced music.

Track list – 1: Continuous; 2: Couscous; 3: Angelique; 4: Welcome Back from Varadero; 5: Muñiñi; 6: Eva Luna; 7: Song for Bebo; 8: It Meant Something Else; 9: Gone too Soon.

Personnel – Miguel de Armas: piano, keyboards, and compositions [1 – 6, 8, 9]; Marc Decho: bass [2, 4 – 9] and composition [7]; Michel Medrano Brindis: drums; Diomer González: congas. Guests – Yasmina Proveyer: voice [1]; Roberto Riverón: bass [1, 3]; Elmer Ferrer: guitar [3]; Petr Cancura: tenor saxophone [5]; Elizabeth Rodriguez: violin [6]; Gabriella Ruiz: cello [6]; René Lavoie: flute [7]; Tyler Harris: alto saxophone [8]; José Alberto Alvarez Batista: güiro [1]; Yaima Cabalerro: güiro [7]. Special Guests – Samuel Formell: drums and timbales [1]; Joel Cuesta: congas [1]; Eliel Lazo: congas [4]

Released – 2021
Label – Three Pines Records [TRP-003-02]
Runtime – 46:52

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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