CD review

Blanco & Cárdenas – ‘Stories Without Words’

Blanco & Cárdenas – Stories Without Words
(Digital only, from Bandcamp. Review by Fiona Mactaggart)

Stories Without Words is an energetic, richly complex, global musical carnival of an album. So, when we hear a piece with multiple excursions in it such as the charming Valse#5, there is a palpable and enjoyable sense of homecoming when the tune actually ends on the tonic chord.

The album is the latest release from Venezuelan composer, pianist and former classical violinist Leo Blanco, here in duo with compatriot, violin virtuoso Alexis Cárdenas.

The story goes that Blanco and Cárdenas met at a party in Caracas in 2008 when, during an impromptu duet, they discovered their musical synergy. A tour of their homeland followed, then in 2010 seven of this album’s nine tracks were recorded. Unfortunately, evolving socio-political issues in Venezuela meant that the final two tracks could not be recorded until 2020. A further contributing factor might have been that nowadays the two live far apart: Blanco in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, where he is Associate Professor Piano at Berklee, and Cárdenas in Paris, France where he is concertmaster (officially ‘supersoliste’!) with the Orchestre National d’Île-de-France.

Between them they have a wide musical background having collaborated with the likes of violinist Didier Lockwood, accordionist Richard Galliano, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and guitarist Lionel Loueke. In fact the album sits on that part of a Venn diagram where new chamber music, Latin, jazz, improvisation and world music overlap.

Of the total of nine tracks, five are covers of some of the pair’s favourite composers, such as Erik Satie (Blanco arranges the free-time piano solo Gnossienne#3 for duo), and Brazilian bandolim virtuoso, Hamilton De Holanda (the playful Pras Crianças (For Children). All arrangements are energised by the warm pulse of Caracas and many global rhythms besides, their playfulness enhanced by Blanco’s improvisations often towards the end of each tune. At other times the two stick to each other like glue, the high-speed, precise unison recalling to this listener the best of Scottish traditional music.

Blanco contributes four of his own compositions which showcase his jazz and global rhythmic sensibilities, yet which nevertheless feature simple, sometimes hypnotically repeating themes. All this throws into relief Cárdenas’ Western classical chops and virtuosic maximalism; just hear his magisterial playing in Blanco’s Perú Landó , or Pajarillo Cinetico (Kinetic Bird) for example.

This is an uplifting album which effectively blends music from many genres and countries, and as such feels a perfect listen for the present times.

Stories Without Words has its UK release on 29 January 2021, and is available on Bandcamp, on Digital only. (LINK)

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