David Virelles – Continuum

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There is a living image of a man in chains that sticks in the mind, looking back at the land and home he left; fear in his heart as he crosses oceans in a swart ship, never to return.

To comfort himself, he sings and beats the oars like drums, remembering his old fundamental votive. His cry rises up as if baying at the moon. Then he arrives at a strange land he must now call home. Here he remembers everything, only there are the new things of his new masters to recall. He incorporates them in his song and dance that he performs in secret; the jerk and twist of his body becomes a rhythmic contortion; the drum his heartbeat and his song the silent cry of his soul until he is one with the only earth he knows. This not only the journey of Odysseus, but of a much later African who journeyed to Cuba, where he has worshiped and lived and sang and danced and created what is still a primordial yearning for his gods, his Orishas. Then Columbus came and brought with him the missionaries and with them the One God and his saints, the Holy Spirit allowed him to worship his communion of saints with the Lucumí and the Santería. The majestic beauty of this marriage is still celebrated in a mystical union with that ancient traveller presiding over the most magnificent continuity of life.

This is the magisterial beauty of an extraordinary, beautiful record that depicts the circle of life, in Continuum, a broodingly spectacular interpretation of life’s continuum. At Virelles’ hands this becomes an attempt not only to trace the great slave migration from Africa to the new world. Remarkably, Virelles, together with the writer and vocalist Román Diáz, who recites his verse element of the record in a sort of call-and-response to Virelles’ musical narration of the migration of the African Diaspora. The pianist is in a realm that is almost unrecognizable from his earlier work where he played melodically. On this record, while melodies can still be followed, Virelles is a study in percussive harmonics. His broad dissonances thrash about with deep sonority across the keyboard. Minor chords splash in waves when sadness constricts the narrative; followed by echoing arpeggios that breathe in fifth and sevenths gasping as the music leaps for joy. Occasionally Virelles will chart the course of his circle of life story with single notes making random swings around the growling drums of Andrew Cyrille, chief keeper of the African flame in memory of that fateful journey across oceans to the new world. Cyrille is a master percussion colourist and introduces a gigantic palette of shades that move and melt, launching into new colours that move and melt in turn traversing a musical topography that recalls the rippling of the ocean, the bleeding of a land ripped apart as well as the crackle of the fire around which the shuffle of gnarled feet can be heard dancing.

Bassist Ben Street anchors himself like a maypole as Virelles and Cyrille continue to create a thunderous roar that carries the music forward, curving the air with what it becomes—somewhere between the recognition of “Royalty” and the recollection of “Our Birthright”—that life is finally coming to be celebrated and it makes a full circle back to the glorious heritage of Africa. Cyrille thrashes at the cymbals, Street growls in double-stops; Cyrille rattles the bells and these stir the poetry of Román Diáz, while Virelles prepares to calm the boiling a bubbling blood of a people yearning for the wind of their ancestors. The celebration of 19th century wars of independence and the mighty heart of freed peoples make music in the joyous celebration or remembering Patrice Lumumba, perhaps, and the joyous celebration of that part of the Diaspora that peopled Haiti. Black and Creole now dance the dance that was in their hearts and souls for centuries and Virelles brings it all back to the beginning—not de capo—but in a continuum that reposes in the heart of the Africa of now freed men who celebrate the circle of life.

This is an ambitious record. David Virelles is more a character in an ancient play whose characters are also the great Andrew Cyrille, who brings his wisdom of the ages to his percussion palette and of course to the griot, Román Diáz who tells of the migrations and keeps that aspect of the Diaspora alive. Ben Street is the anchor and the oar as he plays with great facility and passion. It would be remiss if trumpeter Jonathan Findlayson, tenor and bass clarinettist Mark Turner and Román Filiú did not receive the “Honoris Causa” for this magnificent album.

Tracks: One; El Brujo And The Pyramid; The Executioner; Spectral; Unseen Mother; Royalty; Our Birthright; Short Story For Piano; A Celebration, Circa 1836; Threefold; Mañongo Pabio; To Know.

Personnel: David Virelles: piano, harmonium, pump organ, Wurlitzer organ; Ben Street: acoustic bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums, percussion (cowbells, gongs, maracas, hoe, miscellaneous percussion); Román Diáz: vocals and percussion (congas, Abakuá percussion, ensemble biankomeko, catá, miscellaneous percussion; Román Filiú: alto, tenor saxophone (7); Mark Turner: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet (7); Jonathan Findlayson: trumpet (7).

David Virelles – Official Website: www.davidvirelles.com

Label: Pi Records

Release date: October 2012

Reviewed by: Raul da Gama