While almost no one was looking the bassist Yoser Rodriguez has slipped in his maiden album as leader. Rodriguez is not simply another Cuban musician naturalised in Canada, he is – as this album will attest to – a fine musician first, a bassist second, and making a serious contribution to the music he was brought up to love and to play. Proof of this can be heard on Pollen, a programme of ten songs that surprise and entertain delightfully. The surprise comes from the fact that this is not ‘straight ahead’ music with Cuban motifs, but idiomatically composed music deeply influenced by the Afro-Caribbean musical ethos. And that is heard in the evolutionary nature of Rodriguez’s work. You hear the subtle hint of the bolero, son and danzón, fluttering with clave, but you also hear it expressed in a manner that stretches and expresses the idiom in new ways. ‘El Sueño’ is a fine example of this.
Another interesting aspect of the music on this record is that it offers a profound view of the Cuban expatriate. Musicians tend to romanticise this aspect of migration, often mixing it with clumsy sentimentality especially when it comes to longing for the mother country and comparing it with the new experience of migration. But it takes a musician who is deeply socially conscious to see things as they really are. So as much as it is liberating to feel ‘free’ in a new country, with a new experience, it is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Yoser Rodriguez takes a hard look at all of this and comes up with a dispassionate understanding of what it means to be a Cuban in Canada. ‘Raro Mirar’ deals with discrimination, for instance, and although ‘Gente Que’ could be set anywhere, it is no coincidence that it is set in Canada. However, let’s be clear about one thing: All is not gloom and doom on this disc. Pollen is the music of hope.
Yoser Rodriguez is a musician whose music has imbued the ebullience and joy of what it means to be Afro-Cuban. He is a bringer of jollity and his music is filled with the childlike ecstasy of what it means to be alive. His fingers don’t simply pluck and slap the strings of his bass; they are engaged in an interminable dance. Such an effusion of exuberance is indeed infectious and it spreads exponentially through to the pianist, Jeremy Ledbetter – Yoser Rodriguez’s other ‘employer’ in Canefire – and to the other extraordinary musicians along for the ride. I would be remiss if I did not mention Luis Orbegoso, a musical polymath who is heard here not only on his battery of percussion, but also on trombone. The ineffable Eliana Cuevas is also heard on an exquisite ‘Te Le Escapas a Los Años’ and other Canadian stars make cameo appearances, not the least of whom are, wonderful singer-songwriter and bandleader Adonis Puentes, exceptional drummers, percussionists Amhed Mitchel, Chendy Leon and Marito Marques, the great electric guitarist Elmer Ferrer and Roberto Riveron, marvellous bassist who plays masterfully on ‘Entendimiento’.
All of this is exquisitely engineered by Toronto’s own John ‘Beetle’ Bailey at his legendary Drive Shed studio. Most heartening of all is the fact that the Lula Lounge, Toronto’s hottest venue for everything from Jazz, to Afro-Latin, Brasilian and a world of other music has released this on its own imprint, LulaWorld Records. Will the Americans now sit up and take notice again of the Canadian scene, not simply because ‘it exists’, but because some of the finest, most exciting music in the world is made here?
Track List: El Sueño; Raro Mirar; Muchacha; Posible Tus Desos; Pollen; Gente Que; Mi Libertad; Mojito Song; Te Le Escapas a Los Años; Entendimiento.
Personnel: Yoser Rodriguez: bass, acoustic guitar, lead vocals; Jeremy Ledbetter: piano, keyboards, melodica, percussion, kazoo, vocals; Luis Orbegoso: percussion, vocals, trombone (4); Adonis Puentes: vocals (1, 7), vocals (2, 4, 6); Eliana Cuevas: vocals (9); Chendy Leon: drums (1, 10), percussion (2); Marito Marques: drums (6, 7, 9), percussion (5, 6), kalimba (5); Amhed Mitchel: drums (2), vocals (9); Roberto Riveron: bass melody (10); Elmer Ferrer: electric guitar; Christian Overton: trombone; Braxton Hicks: saxophone, clarinet; Aleksander Gajic: violin, viola; Naomi Barton cello; Diego Las Heras: moog synthesizer (6, 9).
Label: LulaWorld Records
Release date: June 2015
Running time: 45:18
Buy Yoser Rodriguez music: amazon
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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