Elio Villafranca and Arturo Stable – Dos y Mas – Motéma MTM-78, 61:24 ****:
(Elio Villafranca – piano, guataca, vocals; Arturo Stable – djembe, udu, dumbek, congas, bata, cajon, hand percussion, vocals; Igor Arias – vocals (track 10))
There is an instinctive inventiveness to Elio Villafranca and Arturo Stable’s debut duet project, Dos y Mas. Maybe it is because Villafranca is a pianist who started out as a percussionist and Stable is a percussionist who began on the piano; or perhaps because both artists were born and raised in Cuba and studied at the same music school, Havana’s Instituto Superior de Arte. Then there is the incontestable communication Stable and Villafranca have, a simpatico grace inspired nearly a decade ago when the two met as part of Jane Bunnett’s band, The Spirits of Havana. It is probably a combination of all of these components which makes Dos y Mas a captivating brew including but not limited to Latin jazz, Cuban folk influences, Middle Eastern elements and some European musical portions.
While the concept of a piano/percussion collaboration album may seem like some kind of constraint, this one-hour outing is full of bright tones, upbeat tunes and lots of hypnotic rhythms. Stable plays several percussion instruments (djembe, congas and more) while Villafranca layers cadence and melody on the keyboard. The result is material which is enhanced if a listener has a solid understanding of Afro-Cuban forms and other rhythm-based genres, but such familiarity is not a requirement to enjoy the ten compositions, six penned by Villafranca and four written by Stable.
International flavoring flows through several pieces. Villafranca’s “Saghezi” is a multi-tempo excursion structured on the Iranian rhythm of the same name. Stable utilizes a number of different hand percussion instruments rather than the traditional frame drum used by Middle Eastern musicians and alters the customary 4/4 or 6/4 time signature to one which shifts between 7/4 and 10/4. Villafranca’s keyboard virtuosity is also at the forefront during an adventurous performance which sometimes trends towards free jazz, but Villafranca always balances abandonment with harmonic lyricism. Stable’s richly rhythmic “Vertiente” is inspired by southern Spain’s flamenco conventions, in particular the bulería pattern, which Stable blends with Afro-Cuban and jazz techniques. No surprise there is a dance-like movement throughout this track and it is easy to imagine two partners twirling and swaying on a dance floor.
Of course Cuban musical designs form the bedrock for numerous tunes. The beautiful and transcendent “Arara” has a melody borrowed from an ancient Cuban folk source and which also uses a traditional rhythm: while Villafranca offers sublime and sweet piano lines Stable maintains a moist percussive foundation nearly minimalist in its demeanor. Immediately following is the longest cut, Stable’s “En La Colonia,” initially initiated by Stable’s youthful acquaintance with chants from the Yoruba religion, which he heard as a child. Stable opens with a two-minute thumb piano solo introduction and then Villafranca enters with a percussive keyboard accompaniment which gradually builds until he commences with the melody. Modern jazz filters through an unquestionable highlight, Villafranca’s optimistic and expressive “A Las Millas,” a swift jaunt based on the vaunted 1950s Cuban descargas (Latin jazz jams) made famous by Cachao López and others. Villafranca and Stable close with “Cuba Linda,” Villafranca’s first attempt to create a coro de clave y guaguancó, centered on choral singing which emigrated from Spain to Cuba. Over lightly swinging percussion and reflective piano, Villafranca, Stable and guest vocalist Igor Arias nostalgically sing in Spanish about how much they miss their homeland. If anyone wants to get a preview as well as more information, there is a short, making-of online documentary, where Stable and Villafranca explain their musical relationship, discuss the amalgamation of diverse musical styles and perform brief musical extracts.
TrackList: 1529; Saghezi; Alla; Arara; En La Colonia; Vertiente; A Las Millas; Yusa’s; Agua Marina; Cuba Linda.
Bill Withers – Just As I Am – Speakers Corner Records
This is vibrant analogue update of a notable recording debut.