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Sebastian Schunke: Existential Intensities


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Sebastian Schunke: Existential Intensities
German composer and pianist Sebastian Schunke has long taken inspiration from Latin music. But, when his album Elusive Beauty (Connector Records, 2018) won one of Latin America's most important music awards—the Premio Internacional presented during the Cubadisco Festival—he had a rare opportunity to engage directly with Cuban musicians. This album is a kaleidoscopic blend of two Cuban ensembles, Schunke's Berlin band and a Berlin-based chamber ensemble.

"Abakuá [versión de ritual folclórico Abakuá]" opens the set with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, the Cuban rumba ensemble featuring Batá drums which joins Schunke on three tracks. Like all of the Cuban collaborations, the music is traditional, so the focus is on Schunke the pianist finding his way into the vocals and percussion of the ensemble. On this track, he mainly provides a dissonant backing figure which creates a contrasting harmony to the vocal chant. For "El tahonero [Jesús Alfonso]" he plays a gentle unaccompanied introduction as well as a brief solo and montuno accompaniment to the vocals. Grupo Ojundegara is an all-female ensemble with vocals and a lighter percussion accompaniment. On "Colocolo midié [folclor afrocubano]" Schunke accompanies and plays a brief solo coda.

Schunke's band Berlin Brew plays three tracks, giving him full exposure as composer, pianist and bandleader (they account for nearly a third of the album's running time). "Her Dance" begins with rubato textures before latching on to a rhythm. The rest of the tune alternates between rhythm and rubato, with Schunke leading from the piano, and saxophonist Philipp Gropper providing both melodies and connective playing. Their other tunes are similar; they combine Latin rhythms with an almost free jazz approach. In some ways, it is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's "American Quartet" with Dewey Redman, or sometimes Ornette Coleman. The other creative thread is found in the three brief chamber jazz pieces, performed with the Berlin-based Trio Femmes (viola, flute and cello). They represent a much more European sound, with the Latin elements present in an abstract way.

Existential Intensities is a diverse collection. It represents Schunke's creative journey, from Cuban roots to creative Latin jazz, along with a bit of chamber jazz. A good place to start for listeners who are unfamiliar with his work.

Track Listing

1: Abakuá [versión de ritual folclórico Abakuá]; 2: Her Dance; 3: Colocolo midié [folclor afrocubano]; 4: Epilog II; 5: Fighting the Evil; 6: Epilog I; 7: Cantos a Ferekete [folclor afrocubano]; 8: Yemaya [version de ritual folclórico]; 9: El tahonero [Jesús Alfonso]; 10: Der tanzende Klang; 11: Epilog III.


Nick Dunstan
bass, acoustic
Robby Geerken
Philipp Gropper
saxophone, tenor
Additional Instrumentation

Sebastian Schunke: piano; compositions [2, 4 – 6, 10, 11; Los Muñequitos de Matanzas – Diosdado Enier Ramos “Figurin”: lead vocal, choir and catá [1, 8, 9]; Juan Raúl Martínez: lead vocal, choir [1, 8, 9]; Yuniscleyis Ramos: lead vocal, choir, campana and clave [1, 8, 9]; Rafael Navarro “El Niño”: lead vocal and choir [1]; Denis Fernández: lead vocal, choir and shékere [1, 8, 9]; Reyniel López: lead vocal and choir [1, 8, 9]; Ana Pérez: choir [1, 8, 9]; Freddy Jesús Alfonso: tumbadora, abakuá drum and cajón [1, 8, 9]; Eddy Espinoza: tumbadora and abakuá drum [1, 8, 9]; Agustín Díaz: tumbadora and abakuá drum [1, 8, 9]; Luis Davis O. Ramos: batà, clave, and shékere [1, 8, 9]; Jaime O. Ramos: batà, abakuá drum and shékere [1, 8, 9]; Dayan Ramos: batà, campana and catá [1, 8, 9]; Barbaro Ramos: baila [1, 8, 9]; Grupo Ojundegara – Teresa Mederos [Tere Arará]: lead vocal, choir and clapping [3, 7]; Esperanza Mederos Gómez: choir and clapping [3, 7]; Suilen Mercedes Torres Mederos: dance choir and clapping [3, 7]; Pedro Torriente [Nanacho]: oggan and clapping [3, 7]; Luis Berriel: junguede [3, 7]; Orestes de Aramas: juncito [3, 7]; Evangelio Izquierdo Baro [Anda]: junga [3, 7]; Berlin Brew – Nick Dunstan: contrabass [2, 5, 10]; Moritz Baumgärtner: drums [2, 5, 10]; Robby Geerken: tumbadora, small percussion and voice [2, 5, 10]; Philip Gropper: saxophones [2, 5, 10]; Trois Femmes – Yodfat Miron: viola [4, 6, 11]; Laura Maurat: flute [4, 6, 11]; Isabelle Klemt: cello [4, 6, 11].

Album information

Title: Existential Intensities | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Connector Records



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