CD REVIEW: David Virelles – Gnosis

David Virelles – Gnosis
(ECM 5765115. CD review by Mike Collins)

Gnosis, the third outing on ECM for Brooklyn-based Cuban pianist David Virelles, finds him in the company of percussionists and a string section in the shape of the Nostros Ensemble and the visceral vocals and percussion of Román Diaz.

Virelles was in UK with Chris Potter’s band earlier in the year and is visiting with Tomasz Stanko’s quartet in the London Jazz Festival. He’s a sideman of choice in those top drawer contemporary jazz line-ups. On Gnosis he unfurls an even broader canvas, referencing jazz, his Cuban roots with explicitly African resonances, and contemporary classical music. It is a suite of eighteen short pieces, some the briefest of sketches, none outstaying their welcome. Solo piano pieces are scattered amongst percussion heavy Cuban grooves, tribal chants, fully scored ensemble pieces and spacious, free, explorations.

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Del Tabaco y el Azucar acts as a prelude, scattering all the elements in front of us: The splash of a shards-of-glass chord; a clave clicking experimentally; the bubble of a marimba; Thomas Morgan plucks a chord on the bass; there’s the rustle and shake of percussion; Adam Cruz adds some ghostly steel pans. Then, a rolling crescendo wraps it all up into a tumult. Fitití Ñongo is just over two minutes of an infectious montuno locked with pulsating drums steadily distorting as Virelles scatters dissonant runs and embellishments over it. Erume Kondó sets up a trance like groove with percussion, the strings providing a coruscating drone before Diaz leads a chanting call and response, Virelles’ piano like another voice joining in the fray. The solo pieces are all contrasts, drawing on silence and space between scrambling runs and flurries of notes, or percussive bursts of energy, then De Ida y Vuelta Part 1 provides a burst of classically flavoured meditative lyricism, finishing on an ascerbic phrase that cues a brief, dramatic piece for the string ensemble.

This is a remarkable album. Virelles’ imagination and compositions succeed in melding sounds and musical language from across the globe, evoking powerful images and making compelling listening. His singular voice and touch at the piano is the connecting thread throughout.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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