David Virelles - Gnosis

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup includes: David Virelles: piano, marimbula; Roman Diaz: percussion, vocals; Thomas Morgan: bass; Allison Loggins-Hull: flute, piccolo; Adam Cruz: steel pan, claves; Matthew Gold: marimba, glockenspiel; Rane Moore: clarinets; Alex Lipowski: perc.; Mauricio Herrera: perc; Yunior Lopez: viola; Christine Chen: cello; Samuel DeCaprio: cello.


Cuban jazz pianist and composer, David Virelles, has been widely solicited by the attentive musicians on the current scene, who immediately recognized his outstanding creative capabilities. In the recent past, he has played key roles in projects led by trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and saxophonists Henry Threadgill and Chris Potter.

As a leader, Virelles always brings heritage into the game, and both Continuum (Pi Recordings, 2012) and Mboko (ECM, 2015) received accolades from the specialized media for his inventive avant-Afro-Cuban-jazz venture. Last year, the multifaceted pianist left everyone mouth-watering with the Vinyl/EP Antenna, a fully experimental mix of Latin rhythms, electronic vibes, and avant-garde jazz.
His roots and devouring appetite for experimentation become decisive again in Gnosis, meaning an intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths, his new CD and the second on the reputable ECM label.
Lacking the electronic maneuvers that once worked in his favor, the album consists of 18 short compositions (the longest has about six minutes while the shortest 40 seconds) that attempt to transform the Cuban tradition, strongly represented by the Abakua rhythms, into eclectic and sometimes abstract pieces of modern jazz.

Sparse piano strokes, bass perambulations, and multiple percussive approaches set the mood of the amorphous opening tune, “Del Tabaco Y El Azucar”, which at a certain point explodes with a long, thunderous roar.

In turn, the stylish “Fititi Ñongo” encourages everyone to move freely through the loose-jointed Afro-Cuban rhythm that accompanies the propulsive harmonies and well-discernible voice leading. Another super enticing African throbbing arrives with a work song feel in “Erume Kondo”, whose short story is chanted by the acclaimed percussionist/poet Roman Diaz.

Virelles plays unaccompanied on “Lengua I”, a piece with sudden variations in rhythm, texture, and mood, climaxing in a frenetic rhythm adorned by rapid runs, incisive flurries, and mechanical harmonic smacks. Its second part, “Lengua II”, provides a completely different setting, resorting to the efficacious chamber ensemble to adjust the lines.

Also with two different parts, “De Ida Y Vuelta” enchants with the classical romanticism and dulcet lyricism of the earliest segment, and then provides us with the gracious cinematic vision of the more folkloric and motivic second half.

Virelles’ distinguished ideas flow continually on “Tierra”, a 6-minute trip initially sparked by piccolo, bass clarinet, piano, and hypnotic rhythms, and also on “De Portal”, in which he finds the ideal balance between sound and silence, operating in a wide tonal range before dropping anchor in a catchy groove. A more meditative examination was selected for “De Cuando Era Chiquita”, despite the pianist’s low-pitched blows on the lower octaves and dramatic voicings on the higher. The quasi-childish, totally-singable melody expressed before the finale and its subsequent inspired groove made me wish the tune's duration had been extended.

David Virelles, just like his countryman and fellow pianist Aruan Ortiz, maintains his roots and traditions well alive by adapting them to today’s edgier jazz. He does it exemplary through a unique and adventurous voice that can be fully recognized in the course of this conceptual work.

        Grade  A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Fititi Ñongo ► 09 - De Ida Y Vuelta II ► 17 – De Cuando Era Chiquita

David Virelles - Antenna

David Virelles: piano, organ, synth, samples, computer programming; Henry Threadgill: alto saxophone; Rafiq Bhatia: guitar; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Alexander Overington: cello, electronics; Román Diaz: vocals; Etián Brebaje Man: vocals;  


Cuban-born David Virelles, a forward-thinker pianist with a luminous touch, progressively gained prominence within the modern jazz universe, not only due to his original works but also through collaborations with Chris Potter, Tomasz Stanko, Jonathan Finlayson, and Henry Threadgill.
His previous album, Mbókò, is dated from 2013 and competently fused Afro-Cuban traditions with contemporary jazz.

If Mbókò presented peculiar rhythms and dispositions, the new Antenna, a 6-track vinyl released on ECM Records that only lasts for 22 minutes, is even more absorbing and daring, innovating through a grippingly fresh Nu Jazz.
The cycle starts and ends in the same way, purely percussive with the Afro-Latin polyrhythms of “Binary” and “Text” set by a fictional percussive ensemble programmed by Virelles. In the middle, we have four electro-acoustic avant-garde explorations whose textures fluctuate from blissfully spacious to stratospherically dense.

Water, Bird Headed Mistress“ combines ambient electronica, intriguing chamber music, and beseeching melodies tossed by the acclaimed altoist Henry Threadgill. It’s a hypnotic piece that piques our curiosity through its dazzling magnetism. 

Threshold” is even more experimental, letting out creaky sounds and other weird noises, as well as Roman Diaz’s inflamed words over Marcus Gilmore’s understated drumming. In the last two minutes, we’re all ears for guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, who sets a distorted, quirky mood that feels simultaneously rich and obscure.

Rumbakuá” is filled with Cuban street poetry and hip-hop grooves, featuring the rapper Etián Brebaje Man.
An interesting combination of textures is put to work in “El Toro de Bronce”, the longest track of the LP with 6:45 minutes. The bandleader starts by designing unmelodious clusters, having the uncanny arrhythmias of Gilmore as support. This climate gives place to darker chill-out vibes on top of which Virelles brings up a cerebral improvisation. All ends up in a sinister pianistic hammering.

Antenna gathers strange multi-cultural rituals that feel urban and kaleidoscopic, showcasing Virelles’s strong experimental vein and musical boldness.
Odd? Yes, I agree, but utterly satisfying. 

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Label: ECM
Favorite Tracks:
02 – Water, Bird Headed Mistress ► 03 – Threshold ► 05 – El Toro de Bronce