Mike Freeman and ZonaVibe pay wonderful homage to two of great vibraphone masters of musicians on Venetian Blinds; Tito Puente and Bobby Hutcherson. Tongue firmly in cheek Mr Freeman recalls the origin of the title, a reference to the words once used to describe the moment that Mr Puente was seen hauling in his vibraphone the keys of which recalled in the minds of certain staff, a certain window dressing of a similar kind. And the doffing of the proverbial hat to Mr Hutcherson has a slightly more serious tone but the music played in homage is full of the joie de vivre that was the signature of both of the mentoring legends. As a result, the instant we hear the luminously pure and warm echoing tintinnabulation of Mr Freeman’s vibraphone on the opening “House of Vibes” we know that we are in safe hands. All the hallmarks that distinguished Mr Freeman’s earlier tribute to Cal Tjader are here: airy vibrating keys aglow with rhythm, the subtly-hued trumpet, and propulsion of the bass, drums and percussion all make for a powerfully flowing set.
The playing throughout this repertoire is crisp and alert and always fluent. “Bobby Land” has an idiomatic lilt and the gears of the rest of the ensemble grind with fluidity through this and other music throughout this disc. The regular crunch of dissonance between bass and trumpet makes for interestingly angular cadences through “Mambo Kings”. And the melodic development of “What’s up with This Moon” is heightened by the eloquent harmonic changes forcefully applied by everyone from Mr Freeman down the line. Mr Freeman’s gorgeous melody on “Night Crawlers” is beautifully swift and austere, warming up appropriately when the horn enters the fray. And there is an impressive detail in the contrapuntal playing between trumpet and vibraphone on “Fancy Free” while on “Those Venetian Blinds” the Mr Freeman’s tone and articulation on the vibraphone is superbly quiet and beautifully balanced.
Mr Freeman also achieves enormous flexibility in the tenderly inward “Qué Tal Tío” whose tempo has a certain Puente-like lightness. This is music that is frost-fresh, full of bright contrast and with off-beat rhythms driven hard. A resplendent finish is marked by Roberto Quintero’s and Joel Mateo’s superbly colouristic percussion, which enhances the already explosive energy of this music exponentially. Altogether this is a disc full of rollicking drama with delectably performances not only from Mr Freeman, but all of the other musicians as well. And Mr Freeman also injects a wonderful sense of fun with the strategically placed coro on “Those Venetian Blinds”, the centrepiece of this memorable disc.
Track list – 1: House of Vibes; 2: Mister Snacky; 3: Bobby Land; 4: Those Venetian Blinds; 5: Clutch the Hutch; 6: Mambo Kings; 7: What’s up with This Moon; 8: Night Crawlers; 9: Fancy Free; 10: Qué Tal Tío
Personnel – Mike Freeman: vibraphone and coro; Guido Gonzalez: trumpet and coro; Ian Stewart: bass; Roberto Quintero: congas, güiro and shakere; Joel Mateo: drums and campaña
Released – 2018
Label – Vibes Out Front (2018 – 7)
Runtime – 53:32
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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