Cuban-born pianist/composer David Virelles has never been far from the top of the jazz profession in his recording career. His initial appearance as a sideman was with Juno Award winner Jane Bunnett on her 2001 Blue Note release Alma de Santiago. Early in his career he studied with Henry Threadgill and played with Steve Coleman, Chris Potter and Mark Turner. As a leader, he has primarily moved back and forth between the prestigious labels Pi Recordings and ECM for the past decade. Virelles has recorded with the late Tomasz Stanko, Ben Street, Andrew Cyrille, and Roman Diaz. As a leader, Virelles tends to work with mid-size ensembles but his new album Nuna is mostly a solo project.
As a pianist/composer, Virelles shares much with his countryman Aruán Ortiz. Both are classically trained pianists, natives of Santiago de Cuba who emigrated to New York. Though both have an affinity for progressive jazz and genre-blending, their sounds differ. In the semi-isolated setting of Nuna, Virelles brings a clandestine quality to his music. He opens the sixteen-track collection playing the marimbula on "Spacetime." The instrument is native to the Caribbean and in Cuba it is often used in changüí. It is essentially a giant version of the thumb piano keys mounted on a cajon-type box. The clipped bass notes set the unusual tone for the album.
Moods and styles vary throughout the set of compact compositions. "Cuando Canta El Cornetln" could be drifting out of a small Havana social club like a dance between Creole variegation and the Harlem Renaissance. Virelles is joined by multi-percussionist Julio Barreto, a colleague of Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the 1990s. A fellow Cuban artist, he appears in "Ghost Town," "Ignacio Villa," and "Portico," adding fluctuating energy to the latter two pieces.
Like a painter, Virelles gives us contrast and does so in liquid motions that carry our ears along seamlessly. His influences encompass the classics, great Cuban composers, and avant-garde experimentalism. The music on Nuna doesn't flag any particular inspiration nor does it try hard to impress. But impress it does.
Spacetime; Ocho; Ghost Town; Rezo; A Tres Voces; Nacen; Al Compas De Mi Viejo Tres; Simple Answer; Ignacio Villa; Danza De Rosario; Mambo Escalonado; Tessellations; Cuando Canta El Cornetln; Portico; Germania; Casa.
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