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Raúl Gutiérrez Cuban Big Bands: Prado… Vive! & Son Elegante

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Raúl Gutiérrez Villanueva

The Santiago, Chile-born Raúl Gutiérrez has been a frequent traveller to Havana, where he’s been imbued with both the rhythms and the spirit of Cuba’s glorious music. Paying it forward, Mr Gutiérrez has made it his mission to keep the flame of Afro-Cuban music – particularly son, danzón and, in one of the recordings under review below, paying homage to the irresistible mambo rhythms of Pérez Prado – with a modern version of the classic Cuban “orquesta típica”, which would be his Cuban Band and – in an extended form – Sus Estrellas Cubanas.

With the former ensemble Mr Gutiérrez pays homage to the legendary pianist and bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado. The other recording casts a wider net to encompass music that was inspired by Afro-Cuban rhythms and harmonic conceptions, but that was also influenced – and included – the popular music of the halcyon days of swing. In fact, it is safe to say that this recording, entitled Son Elegante brings back to life some classic charts by Cuban masters such as Frank Emilio Flynn, Chano Pozo and the celebrated Mario Bauzá, [together with Grace Samson and Bobby Woodlen] who created the classic “Mambo Inn” which became nearly as iconic as Chano Pozo’s “Manteca”.

Mr Gutiérrez, far from being a relative outsider because he has resided for so long in Europe, is completely re-subsumed [if you like], back into by the Afro-Cuban and Caribbean/Latin Diaspora that bore him in the first place. A superb saxophonist, arranger and bandleader, Mr Gutiérrez fires up the well-oiled machine that is his “orquesta típica” on these two recordings, with which he takes us back to a time when the hypnotic rhythms of son, danzón and mambo made men and women mad with eloquent desire, the kind that was celebrated in both stately ballrooms as well as smaller more tightly-packed clubs. Together these two recordings are an enchanting rhapsody to the vivid and seductive music of Cuba.

Raúl Gutiérrez and His Cuban Band · Prado… Vive!!!

If ever there was a “King of Mambo” that regal title suited the one who wore the crown without peer – Dámaso Pérez Prado. The pianist and arranger rose to eminence in the 1940’s with the band, Sonora Matancera, before being launched into the stratosphere of the ever-popular dance-craze – “mambo” – in 1949. That was when Pérez Prado left for Mexico and founded his own orchestra.

Dámaso Pérez Prado is best-known for the chart “Mambo No 5”, which is the apogee of this disc by Mr Gutiérrez. The disc also features other Pérez Prado smash-hits. However, the inspired repertoire apart, what Mr Gutiérrez has succeeded in doing here is igniting the flame of mambo in the ballroom of the listener’s mind’s mind. With brisk changes and a band that waxes eloquently on each of the tracks Mr Gutiérrez brings immense integrity and authority to this famous music. The soloists – especially the great trombonist Antonio Leal and the powerful battery of percussionists – are excellent without being over-assertive. The authority with which these musicians interpret the charts of Pérez Prado is unimpeachable, as is their performances on each and every song from beginning to end.

Track list – 1: Mambo del papelero; 2: Que le pasa a Lupita; 3: Gateando; 4: Cerezo Rosa; 5: Bonito y sabroso; 6: Mambo No 5; 7: Mambo en Sax; 8: Mambo a la Kenton; 9: Mambos Medley – Mambo No 8/Que rico Mambo; 9: Caballo negro

Personnel – Angel “el niño” Chapotín: trumpet; Lázaro Oviedo: trumpet; Edito O’Farril: trumpet; Ulises Benavides: trombone; Carlitos “ Afrokán” Alvarez: trombone; Antonio Leal: trombone; Cristian Serrano: alto saxophone – lead; Oreste Valido: alto saxophone; Enrique Mora: tenor saxophone; Eliana Mueller: tenor saxophone; Raúl Gutiérrez Villanueva: barítone saxophone; Miguel Farias: piano; Marcelo Córdova: bass; Alain Ortiz Samada: drums; Rolando “El Niño mentira” Salgado: bongos; Yordanis O’Farrill: congas; Luis Hernández llorca: bongos and cow-bell; Ernesto Pérez: chorus; Noila Carrazana [en Lupita]: chorus; Eliana Delgado: chorus; Jose Lusson Bueno: vocals; Jose Lusson Jr: vocals

Released – 2021
Label – Cugate Clásicos Latinos
Runtime – 35:47

Raúl Gutiérrez y Sus Estrellas Cubanas · Son Elegante

The complex rhythms of every patron saint of Cuba become the heartbeat of the music of this album, as the musicians add diaphanous Latin layers on top of the sophisticated harmonies. Together melodies and harmonies are glued by the congas, bàtá, bongos and shékere, adding a physical and emotional intensity to this music – through which runs the deep roots of rumba, blended and made new with the cross-rhythms of clave and the loud and vivid sound of horns. Although he may not have stated it overtly here, Mr Gutiérrez doffs the proverbial hat to the great men of son and danzón, such as Ignacio Piñeiro and certainly Bebo Valdés, as well as [more overtly] modern giants such as Frank Emilio Flynn.

The long, lyrical melodic lines are often sung; and when no vocalist is in attendance then the horns take over and duel mightily with the muttering drums and vivid percussion. Among the classic Afro-Latin-Jazz classics is Frank Emilio Flynn’s “Gandinga, Mondongo y Sandunga”, Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie’s monumental “Manteca” and, of course, the wildfire of Mario Bauza’s “Mambo Inn”. Mr Gutiérrez is justified in adding a tribute to Maynard Ferguson – “Trombology” features the celebrated Antonio Leal, who is still a force to reckon with in Cuban music although he has since passed the flaming torch to younger Cuban men such as Eduardo Sandoval.

This is a wonderful romp through classic Cuban popular music, brilliantly expressed by musicians – led by the ever-elegant Mr Gutiérrez and also featuring such legends as Tata Güines, Adolfo “Peruchín” Argudín and others – all of whom fuse sensual rhythms with exciting melodies, often with witty lyrics; all with a wonderful caressing mellowness.

Track list – 1: Three Coins in The Fountain; 2: Caballo Negro; 3: Cuban Fantasy; 4: Gandinga, Mondongo y Sandunga; 5: Imitaciones; 6: Mambo Inn; 7: Manteca; 8: Trombology – Homenaje A Maynard Ferguson; 9: Son Elegante; 10: Timba Timbero

Personnel – Yaure Muñiz: trumpet; Miguelito Valdés: trumpet and flugelhorn; Pepe Vergara: trumpet; Angel Chapotín: trumpet; Antonio “Tony” Leal: trombone; Carlitos “Afrokán” Álvarez: trombone; Raúl Silvestre: trombone; Cristian Serrano: alto saxophone, leader; Oreste Valido: alto saxophone; Enrique Mora: tenor saxophone; Eliana Mueller: tenor saxophone; Raúl Gutiérrez Villanueva: baritone saxophone,  alto saxophone, soprano saxophone and flute; Miguel  Farias: piano; Jaime Ramos: piano; Marcos Godoy: e-bass and baby bass; Xavier Barahona: e-bass; Luis “Betun” Valiente: bongos , congas , timbales and güiro; Rolando “el niño mentira” Salgado: bongos and congas; Pepe “el loco” Espinosa: timbales, congas and Cuban percussion; Alfonso “Poncho” Valdés: drums, timbales and Cuban percussion; Ernesto Pérez, Ileana Delgado, Raúl Silvestre, José Luson Bueno, Victor Figueroa, Miguel “Spirit” Méndez and Sara “Mamey” Peña: backing vocals; Guests – Greg Wait: trombone; Policarpo “Polo” Tamayo: flute; Adolfo “Peruchín” Argudín: piano; Marcelo Córdova: e-bass; Arístides “Tata” Güines Soto: tumbadora; Luis Conte: congas; Amadito Valdés: timbales

Released – 2021
Label – Cugate Clásicos Latinos
Runtime – 47:36

Featured Photograph of Raúl Gutiérrez by Mariana Gómez

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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