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Ola Fresca: Elixir

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Ola-Fresca-LJNJose Conde is a musician whom I have grown to admire recently. However, such repertoire, so close to traditional forms of Afro-Cuban music is not something I have always associated. Earlier recordings have tended towards more so-called dance music, catering no doubt, to the popular salsa markets. But here we have a record Elixir that adheres in a stricter manner to son, danzón, cha cha chá and guaguancó. But here is the difference: Jose Conde and Ola Fresca have spun these forms in a delightfully singular form. So there is much exquisite music to consider.

Ola-Fresca-Elixir-LJNOla Fresca’s very popular status is confirmed not only because of compositions – the credits on this album are shared with some fairly well-known names (Benjamin Lapidus) – but also because their performances are as commanding and entertaining, and war-hearted as you could wish. Despite what might seem as a tendency towards pandering to populist taste, this is also a band that has a sure sense of structure and pacing and their playing is gratifyingly free of mannerism. In “La Mano del Rumbero” for example, the group’s playing is more deliberate, superbly insouciant and sharply dramatic.

In the more virtuoso writing, in pieces such as “Convivencia” and “Amor Ciclónico” the group shows a sheer technical élan of, say Pedrito Martinez’s group, with Ola Fresca imbuing the pieces with an almost operatic sense of drama. And in the latter piece, Jorge Bringas opts for more pedal than the bassist of Pedrito Martinez’s group but also imparts a playfulness along similar lines to that group. Everywhere you are constantly reminded of the Cuba’s extraordinary sound worlds, a feature that absolutely grows on you as you listen more carefully to the disc again and again.

A real pea-souper of a chart descends in Benjamin Lapidus’ “Bizcocho”, that’s to some judicious sustain in Pablo Vergara’s pianism. In more biting numbers, he perhaps underplays the element of subversiveness – and that goes for pieces such as the boleros heard in the first half of the album where Mr. Vergara captures the malevolent edge with more subtlety than anyone including the other musicians in the band. But mostly the whole group balances the poetry of Afro-Cuban dance with a deep sense of form, which also makes a subjective case for the enduring quality of the album.

Of the other featured players, the percussionists excel. Their charm is palpable. Just as you are thinking that the Big Chief, Jose Conde has abdicated his princely proprietary locus in the group, you become aware that the singing on the slower numbers (boleros) is particularly seductive. IN fact, if you close your eyes, you could almost be listening to one of the finer vocalists playing by a pavement at a popular club in old Havana.

Track List: Elixir; La Mano del Rumbero; Bandera; Pollitos de Primavera; Mulata; El Niño de la Clave; Convivencia; Bizcocho; Amor Ciclónico.

Personnel: Jose Conde: lead vocals, güiro and all arrangements; Pablo Vergara: piano; Jorge Bringas: bass; Juan-Carlos Formell: bass; Roberto Quintero: congas, maracas and guïro; Obanlu Iré: congas and shékere; Gabriel Machado: timbales and bongos; Román Diaz: clave; John Spek: trombone (2); Jose Davila: trombone; Rey David Alejandre: trombone; Dennis Hernández: trumpet.

Label: Pipiki Records
Release date: June 2015
Website: olafresca.com
Running time: n.a.
Buy music on: amazon

About Ola Fresca

Weaving the musical bridges connecting Cuban son, salsa, timba, and funk, Ola Fresca (Formerly Jose Conde y Ola Fresca), in its first 10 years and two world acclaimed, award winning, original albums under the direction and creative energy of Jose Conde, has evolved a swinging, fearless tropical Latin sound directly from Brooklyn, New York. Read more…

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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