If something in the water of Cuba gives birth to prodigious artistry it is in their great conservatoires of Habana that this artistry – more often than not, manifested in pianists and pianism – is nurtured to greatness. Emilio Morales is one such product of the proverbial “waters of Cuba” and its conservatoires – in his case those august institutions being the Conservatorio Alejandro García Cartula under Jorge Luis Herrero, and later at the Escuela Nacional de Arte under Hilda Melis, from where he “graduated” and received instruction with Alexandr Volkof, himself a graduate of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow.
All of this learning, of course, served to refine the uncommon musical gifts that Mr Morales was born with, and which enables him to play music as if he is tossing confetti, imbuing his filigreed, rippling musical lines with a thrill no end. Listening to Mr Morales move effortlessly between the classical music of scholastic years and the Cuban traditions that course through his hot-blooded veins it feels as if you are in the throes of liquid streams of quavers that gather into great cascades of music, dancing in the ebullience, and the ebb and flow of Cuban conga and rumba.
The music of these two recordings under review, one of which comes from his early studio dates [Con cierto Tumbao] and the other more recently put down [Todos los Caminos], we are awe-struck by a pianist who explores the extremes of composition and interpretation; a pianist who reveals himself at both his most inward and his most virtuoso. The piano keyboard bends to his will as he plays the music with a combination of physical and mercurial charm.
Emilio Morales: Con cierto Tumbao
The two most prominent influences in Mr Morales’ music – Afro-Cuban and Classical – collide with splendid results in this [so appropriately-entitled] album. Beginning with a clever music-and-word-play of “Tata Guinness” Mr Morales proceeds to turn in virtuoso performance after performance in music that simply dazzles in the sheer accuracy of pitch and rhythm, ensemble, synchronicity, dynamism and the obvious commitment to the task at hand.
The pianist is abetted by robust and vivid performances by both his ensemble and special guests. Classic compositions such as Ignacio Cervantes’ “Los tres Golpes” find in his interpretation a bold, more intensified and kinetic manifestation. The other Cuban standard “El Manisero” is played with superb timbral effects. Mr Morales turns in a stunning version of “Con cierto tumbao” and much of this has to do with a performance by Yasek Manzano, whose playing burns like a blue flame on the song, as he plays flugelhorn.
Most dazzling, however, is when the pianist slows things down and darkens the musical hue, inviting incredible vocal performances from Sory – first on “Siempre te vas en las tardes” and later on “Las Perlas de tu boca”. The album ends on a joyful note, on “Emiliango”, but not before Mr Morales turns in a sterling interpretation of Horace Silver’s classic “Nica’s Dream”.
Track list – 1: Tata Guinness; 2: Drume Negrita; 3: Siempre te vas en las tardes; 4: Con cierto tumbao; 5: Los tres golpes; 6: Martha; 7: El Manisero; 8: Las Perlas de tu boca; 9: Mi mejor cancion; 10: Nica’s Dream; 11: Emiliango
Personnel – Emilio Morales: piano and keyboards, voice and effects; Fabián García: contrabass, voice and effects; Omar González: contrabass [4, 10]; Emilio del Monte: timbal, voice, effects and chorus; Emilio del Monte Jr: tumbadora, botija, bongó de madera, marimbula, minor percussion and chorus; Enrique Lazaga: güiro, minor percussion, voice, effects and chorus. Special Guests – Yasek Manzano: flugelhorn ; Sory: lead vocals and chorus [3, 8]; William Robrego: chorus; Emilio Vega: voice, effects and chorus.
Released – 2010
Label – Colibri [CD 189]
Runtime – 52:42
Emilio Morales: Todos los Caminos
The musician in Mr Morales seems to exist in various worlds; something not uncommon in Cuba, as elucidated in the introduction to this review. He is more emphatic about this on the repertoire of this album – especially as he turns his attention to the music of Chopin and Bach. In the first instance the pianist puts his own – Cuban – spin on Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne opus 9 No 2 before turning his attention to the majestic counterpoint of the first movement of JS Bach’s Partita No 1. In his Chopin piece, “Chopin en la Habana”, and later in the Bach partita, “Bach Blue”, Mr Morales pierces the romantic miniature as well as the contrapuntal form with dramatic and crafty tumbao.
Later on the recording Mr Morales also makes use of a string quartet to raise the orchestral nature of his music to a rarefied realm. Once again, the pianist tackles the balance between words and music with four stunning works where he appears with widely disparate vocalists – the first is “Corcovado”, which features the voice of the great Beatríz Márquez, who is almost madrigal-like throughout the choruses of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic song. On “Mejor Diciembre” we are treated to a fine vocal performance by Waldo Mendoza, together with a command performance by Mr Morales; there is also a superbly powerful performance by Mayito Rivera on “Guarapo, Pimenta y Sal”. But the apogee of it all comes on “Contigo Aprendí” when Mr Morales makes musical magic with vocalist Geidy Chapman.
It may be an exaggeration to say that Mr Morales himself disappears into the vocals of the music; in reality, however, he manages to subsume his musical personality in spinning delicate musical spells. His combination of lyrical harmonic prowess and melodic flexibility sustains the emotional mood of this music, all the while bringing its poetic imagery to life.
Track list – 1: Mozambilio; 2: Chopin en la Habana; 3: Corcovado; 4: La Flauta Mágica; 5: Mejor Diciembre; 6: Mi Pilón; 7: Bach Blue; 8: Contigo Aprendí; 9: Un Tres Primera Clase; 10: A Puerto Padre; 11: Guarapo, Pimenta y Sal; 12: Motivos de Amor
Personnel – Emilio Morales: piano; Julito Padrón: trumpet; Liván Morejón: soprano saxophone; Lazaro Rivero “El Fino”: contrabass; Enrique Lazaga: güiro; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and percussion; Juan Carlos Rojas “El Peje”: drums; Ariel Sarduy: violin; Verónica Reyes: violin; Raiza Valdés: viola; Arelis Zaldivar: cello; Caridad Zaldivia: contrabass. Special Guests – Carmen Rosa López: direction for strings [1, 11]; Beatríz Márquez: vocals ; Waldo Mendoza: vocals ; Geidy Chapman: vocals ; Efraín Ríos: tres ; Mayito Rivera: vocals .
Released – 2019
Label – BisMusic [CD 1211]
Runtime – 1:05:13