David Virelles ‘Mbókò’ (ECM) 4/5

david-virellesExiled Cuban pianist David Virelles has an unusual pedigree in having studied composition under Henry Threadgill and being subsequently exposed to the more avant-garde side of jazz from Cecil Taylor through to Andrew Hill, while of course not forgetting Monk. Indeed, Virelles has performed alongside Steve Coleman and Tomasz Stanko and all these have influenced Virelles’ work, but he has sought to weave these musical experiences into his own native cultural upbringing, namely that of traditional Afro-Cuban music and this new recording was cut in New York under Manfred Eicher. It is certainly no standard Latin jazz outing either and parallels would be more pertinent in relation to McCoy Tyner’s fiery mid-1970s outings, or even Don Pullen’s excursions into the Brazilian folklore. The first half of the album is sedate in tone and is spatial in the Ahmad Jamal interpretation of the word, leaving deliberate gaps for the listener to fathom. This is illustrated on ‘The Scribe’ and here Virelles seems content to comp as a sideman. However, this merely sets the scene for the infinitely more powerful numbers elsewhere with the uptempo ‘Biankoméko’ featuring the trio plus significantly a beefed up percussion section of Marcus Gilmore and Román Díaz. Indeed, one major feature of the album as a whole is the non-conventional format of two bassists, possibly attempting to convey a drone-like effect and the use of an Afro-Cuban drum set which is primarily deployed in sacred Cuban music. The minimalist approach continues on the pared down piano on ‘Stories waiting to be told’ which has a quasi-classical feel. Arguably the most melodic piece is the gentle is the reposing ‘Aberiñan y Aberisún’ with Afro-Cuban percussive chants and some fine bass work from the duo of Robert Hurst and Thomas Morgan. A left-field outing for sure, but one that bears repeated listens.

Tim Stenhouse