Flutist, Orlando Valle, known to his followers as, “MARACA,” grew up in a musical environment. He took up the flute at an early age and was invited to join Irakere, one of Cuba’s most popular bands, at the age of twenty-two. During his six years with the band he excelled as a flutist, keyboard player and arranger.
To date Maraca has recorded nine albums as a leader, is the recipient of numerous awards, such as the 1st and 3rd national Composers Competition Adolf Guzman (Havana, 1989) and the National Prize for Best Recordings from Egrem Records (1994) among others. In addition, he is the current leader of the Latin Jazz All Stars, an international all-star band that features some of the most prominent musicians from Cuba, Puerto Rico, France, Japan and Canada.
The genesis of the Latin Jazz All Stars dates back to 2008, when Maraca was invited to create a musical project for the Monterey Jazz Festival in California. According to Maraca, the original idea was to create new material for a string orchestra, but over time the project evolved into a “convention of the minds.” After a triumphant performance at Montery the band toured the United States and Latin America (Colombia). Over the years the band has featured such luminaries as (pianist) Herbie Hancock (pianist), Joshua Redman (saxophone), Cassandra Wilson (vocalist), John Benítez (bassist), Miguel Zenón (saxophonist), Brian Lynch (trumpeter) and Edward Simon (pianist) among others.
RECORDED LIVE AT THE GRAND THEATER IN HAVANA, CUBA (2011, DESCARGA SARL)
Reencuentro was recorded live at El Gran Teatro de La Habana’s García Lorca Concert Hall (in Havana, Cuba) on January 12, 2010. Much like its predecessor (The Monterey Jazz All Stars), the Latin Jazz All Stars features an international lineup: Horacio “El Negro” Hernández (drums), Giovanni Hidalgo (congas, timbal, batá), David Sánchez (saxophone), Hugh Fraser (trombone), Harold López-Nussa (piano), Feliciano Arango (bass), Julio Padrón (trumpet), Yusef Díaz (keyboards), Enrique Lazaga (güiro), and Sayaka (violin), plus the participation of Orquesta de Cámara de La Habana (Havana Chamber Orchestra) under the direction of Iván del Prado.
The recording takes the listener on a musical journey through the history of traditional and contemporary Cuban music. The repertoire includes such classics such as Camerata en Guaguancó (a Guido López-Gavilán composition), Serenata Cubana (an Ignacio Cervantes piece), Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie’s, Manteca and a number of original compositions, including Afro, Danzón Siglo XXI, and Nueva Era.
The production, the repertoire and the high level of musicianship makes this recording a “must have” for aficionados of Latin Jazz and anyone who is interested in the development of Afro Caribbean music. The concert features so many special moments that it is difficult to select one defining moment, however I was particularly impressed with the Japanese violinist, Sayaka, the band’s interpretation of Manteca and the seamless manner in which the Havana Chamber Orchestra and the Latin Jazz All Stars meshed.
Reencuentro is unquestionably Maraca’s most ambitious recording to date and perhaps his finest as well. Look for it on my list of Top Ten recordings of 2011.
For Additional Information on Maraca Visit: www.maraca.cult.cu/
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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