BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Mbokò, the second album from Cuban-born/NYC-based pianist David Virelles, comes honestly by its subtitle: Sacred Music for Piano, Two Basses, Drum Set and Biankoméko Abakuá. Though the pieces are all originals, the record is Virelles’ vision of the spiritual language of the Abakuá culture, an Afro-Cuban masculine secret society known to worship sound – the title refers to the Voice, the sound of the spirits themselves. The rhythms of Abakuá influenced much of the Cuban music that came after it, but, if this record is any indication, not in an obvious way.
If you’re looking for dance music, there’s little of it here. Instead Virelles’ work evolves in a more meditative direction – not in the sense of ambience or lack of movement, but in the sense of searching. This is music seeking a spiritual path, whatever that may be, While opening cuts “Wind Rose” and “The Scribe” find comfort in near-statis – “Wind Rose” even opens with a minute or so of silence – “Transmission,” “Biankoméko” and “Seven, Through a Divination Path” work at more feverish pitches, calling down the spirits instead of waiting to be found. These faster pieces also connect more explicitly to the jazz tradition in which Virelles works, allowing him ample time to tickle the ivories with solos as well as compose new hymns. Arguably jazz musicians worship sound as a matter of course; Mbokò simply makes it spiritually formal.
DOWNLOAD: “Seven, Through a Divination Path,” “Biankoméko,” “Wind Rose”