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Miguel de Armas Quartet: What’s to Come



Miguel de Armas

The pianist Miguel de Armas is blessed with a magnificent tumbao and he uses it to great effect on What’s to Come. But if you thought that he is sticking within his comfort zone on this recording, then you would be dead wrong because clearly not afraid to step out, to invent – very organically, it must be said – outside the Afro-Caribbean idiom and yet stay true to his roots in a refreshing, forward-thinking manner. His use of electronic instruments – especially the synthesizer – is rather effective and while he may not be the first to add splashes of vivid colour and stretch the sonic palette of his music, he certainly makes every sound from the instrument work very well for him and his music, especially when the drama of musical narratives unfold as piano and keyboards collide to produce a refreshing wave of harmonics.

Miguel de Armas is a sincere and persuasive musician. His pianism is suffused with a panoply of colours and his touch is at the soft end of the spectrum, although it has a subtle and percussive touch and always conveys his music so luminously. The music doesn’t often raise its voice much and even when it does, the narratives are skillfully crafted to maintain a certain expressive decorum. An attractive feature of Miguel de Armas’ music is that he alters harmonies and structural elements with impressive control, heading in directions that surprise and captivate the ear. The danzón “La Dama y el Perro”, “Rumba on Kent St.” and “Tango Asunción” are fine examples of such restraint. The use of bátà on “Freddie’s Drink” adds much to the rollicking rhythm of the piece.

In those and all the other works on this album, Miguel de Armas performs with consummate artistry, blending superior control and tonal lucidity with a cohesive sense of line and motion. The pianist’s music could hardly be better served than by his brilliantly schooled quartet as well as by a constellation of stars who have joined in to celebrate this music: and these include Jane Bunnett on soprano saxophone, the fiercely brilliant bassist, Roberto Riverón, guitarists Elmer Ferrer and Galen Weston, superb accordionist Alexandre Laborde and the fiery trumpeter Alexis Baró. All of the musicians engage in a skillful and rigorous manipulation of the material in the most listenable light possible, while also making it more vibrant than ever.

Track list – 1: Yasmina; 2: A Song for My Little Son; 3: La Dama y el Perro; 4: His Bass and Him; 5: Pam Pim Pam Pum; 6: Illusion; 7: What’s to Come; 8: Rumba on Kent St. 9: Tango Asunción; 10: Freddie’s Drink

Personnel – Miguel de Armas: piano and keyboards; Michel Medrano: drums and percussion; Marc Decho: bass (solo – 2 – 4), (5, 7, 9); Arien Villegas: congas (5); Guests: Alexis Baró: trumpet and flugelhorn (1); Roberto Riverón: contrabass (1); Carlitos Medrano: congas and percussion (1, 3, 5, 8 10); Elmer Ferrer: electric guitar (2); Mathieu Sénéchal: bass (4, 8, 10); Galen Weston: electric guitar (4); Jane Bunnett: soprano saxophone (7)

Released – 2017
Label – Independent
Runtime – 47:22

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



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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