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William Johnson – Flor de Vida/Flower of Life

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William Johnson’s release Flor de Vida/Flower of Life contains a good dose of latin influenced fused smooth jazz. Except for the track “Discovery”, all compositions are originals by percussionist William Johnson. Johnson’s outstanding compositions are sophisticated and lyrical but always with a rich and hard rhythmic foundation. In the track “Conga Duet”, Johnson and Victor Villafañe demonstrate their technical abilities playing the congas with spontaneity and ease. Some of the compositions on the album contain a religious message, like “Rise”, an instrumental interpretation of the miracle of resurrecting a little girl performed by Jesus.

“To the beach” is a family conversation that serves as an intro to the track “Flor” (Flower). Willie Bradley adds some thoughtful trumpet solos on this one, over the dense textures and rhythms of Luis Conte on timbales and William Johnson on congas. Luis Conte also adds the vocals alongside Lasherrie Droughton on the danceable and intense latin rhythms of “Como las flores” (Like the flowers). Kyle Johnson electric guitar and the rock/latin/jazz fusion sound on “Mi Pasión” are reminiscent of Santana. With the distinct clave of afro Cuban music, “Descarga” is an intense track that contains the most impressive solos by William Johnson on congas and Luis Conte on timbales. “Dad’s Song”, a composition that evokes the music of the native Americans, leads to “Heaven’s Rainforest”, a world music-like peaceful piece.

Tracks: Flor De Mi Vida, Discover (Descubrimiento), Conga Duet (interlude), Rise (Talitha Cumi), To The Beach (interlude), Flor, Como las Flores, Mi Pasión, Descarga, Dad’s Song (interlude), Heaven’s Rainforest.

Personnel: William Johnson: Congas, djembe, udio drum, shaker, bongo, cajon, minor percussion; Darrien Peoples: Shakers; Lou Santiago Jr.: Drums; Alberto Salas: Keyboard, piano; Melissa Mayle, Lasherrie Droughon: Vocals; Timmie Raynor III: Electric bass; Michael Parlett: Flutes, drums, shaker, clave; Hans Zermuehlen: Keyboards, Rhodes; Victor Villafañe: Congas, timbales, bells; Luis Conte: Timbales, bells, batá, surdo, vocals; Mark Faine: Upright bass; Willie Bradley: Trumpet; Kyle Johnson: Electric guitar, ebo guitar; Raymond Robinson: Flute, cello, arp.

William Johnson – Website: http://williamjohnsonmusic.com

Label: Cedros Records

Release date: September 2011

Reviewed by: Wilbert Sostre

Member of the Jazz Journalist Association since 2010. Member of the Ponce International Jazz Festival Commitee. Studied music and guitar, 1985-86. Music studies at the University of Puerto Rico and the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico, 1986-1990.

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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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