Album: Gnosis

Artist: David Virelles

Label: ECM

Release Date: September 15, 2017


The Upshot: A vision of Cuban music as chamber music and jazz that’s also a synonym for artistic freedom.


Pianist David Virelles is one of the most interesting and creative young jazz practitioners around, shining in ensembles led by Chris Potter and Tomasz Stanko. But the real heart of his work is found on the records made under his own name. A Cuban native, the NYC-based ivory tickler explores his native heritage on those records, and not in the expected way.

As with his previous album Mbokò, Gnosis explores the influence of the secretive Abakuá culture, eschewing the rhythm-heavy dance music we all think of as Cuban music and leaning more towards Afro-Cuban chamber music. Joined by the Nosotros Ensemble, Virelles utilizes flutes, clarinets, strings and all kinds of percussion to construct webs of sound that come off loose in their rhythmic malleability, but are actually tight as a superglued screw. The leader weaves his piano into and around “Tierra” and “Del Tabaco Y El Azúcar” like thread in a tapestry, creating intricate pieces that never succumb to cultural or artistic clichés.  Singer Román Díaz, who worked with Virelles on his debut album Continuum, returns here, laying his gruff, soulful pipes down on “Erume Kondó.” Virelles also finds room for several solo piano excursions, including “Epilogo,” the two-part “De Ida Y Vuelta” and a quartet of pieces that close out the album.

There’s little here that most people would think of as jazz or even Afro-Cuban music, though “Fitití Ñongo” fits both categories. But the consumer’s lack of range will get blown apart here, as Virelles’ vision of Cuban music as chamber music and jazz as a synonym for artistic freedom recognizes no limitations.

DOWNLOAD: “Tierra,” “Nuná,” “Erume Kondó”

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