Nunca Tarde – Album round-up (LuizGa & Edgar Valente, Ara Tokatlian & Enrique Villegas, Classico Latino & Fruko, Mito & Comadre and more, more, more…)

By 02 December, 2023

Quite liderally, a bumper batch for you this month; it must be getting near to Christmas. Pens and wish-lists poised please…

Körinn Pierre-Fanfan: Rêver (Rozo Productions)

I’ll start with this Guadeloupian singer’s second solo album, since I’ve been playing it regularly over several weeks ahead of its mid-November release. Ever since picking up some old Disque Debs International LPs on recent search-and-buy expeditions, I’ve become increasingly enamoured of music from the Antilles. Although this delicate, poetic album takes inspiration from her native isle, this is not necessarily typical of the indigenous music. Backed by the classic jazz format of (electric) piano, double bass and drums, the singer’s seven (of eight) compositions fall largely into the four-letter j*** category. It’s a highly personal album, which the singer describes as “a present to herself”, but its life-blood derives from the synergy she has experienced from past collaborations with the likes of Tony Allen, Seun Kuti and Blick Bassy, and her ongoing one with pianist, Ruddy Boa. His arrangements all display an elegant, un-showy simplicity that highlights Pierre-Fanfan’s sparkling voice. At 30 minutes, Rêver doesn’t outstay its welcome, but like a good hors d’oeuvre leaves a very pleasant taste and a hunger for more.

Erdös Quartet: Otrojazz (Latin Big Note)

Here’s another album I have been getting to know well this last month that bridges jazz and Latin music. This one, though, takes you straight back to Cuba and New York circa the 1950s and early ’60s. Labelling itself the Paris Bronx Connection, the quartet led by “The French Guy”, pianist Laurent Erdös, cooks up a distinctive Latin flavour that’s like a cross between the Joe Cuba Sextet and the blind UK pianist George Shearing’s once influential quintet, which hitched vibes, guitar and Latin percussion to the classic piano/bass/drums trio. Erdös earned his nickname during a year spent among the Puerto Rican community of the Bronx studying Latin music. After which, he promptly went back to Paris and opened a school for Afro-Caribbean music before taking up the piano a decade or so later. “I never studied piano; I studied percussion. I don’t play with my ten fingers but with four, like a vibraphonist does with his drumsticks,” Erdös explains – and it’s this singular technique he worked out that helps make Otrojazz so distinctive and so engaging.

Back in New York, he hooked up with three veterans who have played together as the rhythm section of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Together, they play the bejayzus out of a repertoire of jazz classics like “I Can’t Get Started” and “Cherokee”, and Erdös’ own compositions – such as the fabulous seven-minute closer, “Corno Criollo”, which features the leader’s son Jan on French horn. Another son, Tino, is also featured, on trombone. It’s a simple, effective recipe for sheer rhythmic and melodic delight.

El Búho: Strata (Wonderwheel Records)

Simplicity is also the hallmark of Robin Perkins’ latest effort – in the sense that he creates electronic music that’s uncluttered and clean, with a tight focus on the symbiosis of natural and synthesised sounds. One forgets sometimes that electronic sounds are not necessarily synonymous with the hard edges of rhythmic dance music, but can subtly shade and highlight, say, the sound of a violin as on the lovely “Floating Islands” or Alejandra Ortiz’s exquisite vocal on “Ley de Origen”. It’s evident throughout just how enthralled this artist is by the indigenous music of Latin America in general and Colombia in particular. On the most recent single, for example, “Cenizas de Agua”, in tandem with guest vocalist Nita from the Spanish duo Fuel Fandango, he manages to create a truly celestial shade of cumbia. This is the Greenpeace activist and DJs for Climate Action founder’s fifth studio album. It’s rather incredible that he manages to find the time for so many projects, and equally remarkable that, despite the relentless attacks on the environments he loves and seeks to protect, he manages to create music that is both beautiful and ultimately uplifting. As Perkins/El Búho, “The Owl”, urges: “Embrace the beautiful things in your life, find power in the collective and contribute what you are good at or passionate about.” He said a mouthful!

LuizGa & Edgar Valente: Aiê (Ajabu! Records)

It seems like an age since this album came out – probably because the digital version has been around since mid-October. The CD and LP have just come out, all the better to appreciate this lovely collaboration between the nomadic Brazilian singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist LuizGa, or Luiz Gabriel Lopes, erstwhile member of groups like the post-Tropicália outfit Graveola, and multi-faceted Portuguese musician, Edgar Valente. With its disconcerting string sounds and staccato rhythms, “Haux Haux” was a striking, haunting and memorable single. It bore the hallmark of Grammy-winning producer Guilherme Kastrup, who produced Elza Soares’ swansong, Deus é Mulher, among a raft of other credits. He adds other touches of drama throughout, as in the strangely unsettling “Miração”, but generally emphasises LuizGa’s acoustic guitar and the pair’s sumptuous vocal harmonies. The group they call Aiê have created ten sparkling numbers that add up to a real gem.

Orquestra Brasileira de Música Jamaicana: Maior (Independent)

Here’s a curious little number – not the music per se, rather the fact that you could almost be listening to a late ’60s model of the Skatalites as you bounce along to the first three numbers, say, of this Brazilian nine-piece outfit’s second album. It’s been out in vinyl form for a while back in Brazil, but it’s now available on the major streaming platforms. As it should be. Maior is far from being just a straight rendition of Jamaican ska and reggae; there are lots of playful Latin and Caribbean touches throughout: “Coisa Delícia”, for example, has a lovely meringue-tinged swing to it; the infectious “Vai” could almost be samba-school reggae; and I particularly love the steel pans in “Tarde em São Luis”. I dare say some Trinidadian band has already set the pans to a reggae riddim, but it sure works a treat. As indeed do most of these 11 numbers of an album that is much more varied than might appear on first listening. If there’s an occasional suspicion of Caribbean music being re-processed for a mass market, there are quite enough gems like the closer, “Montfalcone 15”, to compensate. The band’s motto is Making people dance and they certainly find ways of fulfilling this on Maior.

The Labra Brothers: Home (The Labra Brothers Entertainment)

Some more infectious fusion for you now, this time a fusion of Latin and Americana “sonic profiles” (not my term, you understand) courtesy of this band of siblings. We’re talking five brothers – one more than Woody Herman’s famous sax section, and they were only nicknamed the Four Brothers – plus two outsiders. They’ve opened for Los Lobos in the past and that’s maybe a good starting point in understanding what they’re about.

Hailing from Ohio and influenced by their parents’ diverse music tastes, the brothers have developed a sound that combines elements of blues and funk, along with the kind of music that suggests their Latin roots. The title track, for example, is redolent of Los Lobos in particular and mariachi in general. They switch genres throughout as effortlessly and as convincingly as they switch from (mainly) English to Spanish. While occasionally teetering on the edge of overt commercialism, it’s often stirring and quite impressive. It’ll be interesting to see how their career progresses. Think what tends to happen to two brothers once they get embroiled in a band.

Ara Tokatlian & Enrique Villegas: Inspiración (Altercat Records)

The latest instalment of the Berlin label’s love affair with obscure jazz from Argentina came out in early November. This time it’s a deeply spiritual affair. Back in the 1950s, a young tenor saxophonist named Paul Quinichette was nicknamed the “Vice-Prez” because his light, airy tone was so similar to that of Billie Holiday’s “President”, Lester Young. Listening to the opening “Camino a Samarkanda”, you could be forgiven for thinking that an avatar of John Coltrane was drawing down inspiration from above.

Fear not, though! Although the young Ara Tokatlian could be a “Vice-Coltrane”, it is not the wild, avant-garde late Trane, but the gentler, meditative saxophonist arguably at the height of his powers circa A Love Supreme. That album would appear to be the inspiration for Tokatlian’s 1975 outing in the company of his cohort from the ’70s rock band Arco Iris, bass player and percussionist Guillermo Bordarampé, and the veteran pianist Enrique Villegas. With two sax tracks sandwiching a feature for Tokatlian’s fine flute playing per side, this is a quietly captivating affair clearly born of Inspiración. Writing earlier this year, the now veteran saxophonist felt at the time “the breath of love” of two of his mentors and wishes “those magical moments of harmony, music and inspiration could return, if only for a moment!”

Gabriele Leite: Territórios (Rocinante)

And while on the subject of meditative music… Gabriele Leite is a 24-year old classical-guitar prodigy from São Paulo state, whose highly anticipated debut album came out around the same time as the Altercat reissue. It features pieces by Sérgio Assad, Edino Krieger, Heitor Villa-Lobos and William Walton, whose “Five Bagatelles (Cinco Bagatelas)” were composed for the great Julian Bream. With her second year of doctoral studies in the U.S. to come and her 2024 concerts being scheduled, no wonder that the guitarist claims “many beautiful things are coming, and I can’t wait to continue creating opportunities.” As for her current music, it’s beautifully performed and quietly spellbinding.

Montañera: A Flor De Piel (Western Vinyl)

Equally delicate, but in a very different way, is this third solo album from the Colombian chanteuse María Mónica Gutiérrez, aka Montañera. Produced by the Colombian band Rizomagic, it’s a dreamlike affair full of diverse influences from the worlds of ambient, pop, electronics and traditional Colombian music (heard to gorgeous effect on the track “Santa Mar”). The London-based singer-songwriter’s extraordinary voice hovers, glides and swoops above the soundscapes like a condor in flight. Mesmerising stuff that suggests, to me at least, that there’s more to life than rhythm and dance.

Classico Latino & Fruko featuring Omar Puente: Salsa Classics (Jazztone Studios)

Six years ago (already!), I reviewed the expatriate Cuban violinist Omar Puente’s album, Best Foot Forward, recorded in “Studiosonic Full Dimensional Stereo” somewhere presumably in his adopted England. Very good it is, too. So I’m pleased to come across this new release, which does indeed feature his tasteful, rhythmic playing on each of the seven classics selected. At one time, Puente was first violin with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra and, as their name suggests, the band’s USP is a blend of classical and Latin genres. Led by Colombian pianist Ivan Guevara and British cellist and conductor Graham Walker, this is the combo’s sixth studio album to date – and the first to feature the Colombian legend and the musical head honcho of Discos Fuentes, the mighty Fruko. Yes, he’s still going strong. I kind of imagined he’d done a soft-shoe shuffle to that great Palladium ballroom in the sky some years ago. So it’s nice to have him back, so to speak.

The album comes out in advance of Classico Latino’s appearance at King’s Place in London on the 7th December. The band has built quite a reputation for their live performances around the globe, so it should be a good one. As a bonus, Omar Puente will also be performing on the same evening with pianist Alex Wilson in a quartet format. There may still be time to book your tickets.

Mito & Comadre: Guajirando (ZZK Records)

I was much taken by this Venezuelan duo’s single “Siento Una Pena”, which came out in October. Since then, they’ve released the sweetly funky “Barlovento” as a further single and now the album itself. Guajirando is the first Venezuelan album to be released by ZZK Records – and they’ve certainly picked something quite special. It’s a marriage of two expatriate Venezuelans based in Colombia, Mito (Guillermo Lares) and Comadre (Shana), and Grammy-winning producer Christian Castagno, who numbers Iggy Pop and Arcade Fire among his credits. Mito’s family background as musicologists and archivists of traditional Venezuelan music is reflected in the array of wind and percussion instruments heard in support of Comadre’s delightful vocals. Enriched by the outstanding production, the sum of the parts is moving in a way that’s both physical and emotional. “We look for roots, belonging and pride in where we come from,” Comadre explains. “If we recognise our origins, then our steps will be firmer in our present and future.”

I’ve been rattling on for quite long enough – and I haven’t even mentioned BBE’s fabulous retrospective of the great Brazilian husband and wife team’s careers, but the 5-LP or 3-CD set, Airto & Flora – A Celebration: 60 Years – Sounds, Dreams & Other Stories is truly outstanding. ‘Nuff said.

What will Father Christmas be putting in his sack for delivery to Latin lovers later this month? Find out in early January next year…

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