The follow-up to David Virelles’s debut album, and his first with Pi Recordings, Continuum, pays homage to the pianist’s Cuban heritage. Part jazz record, part sound poem, Continuum explores a soundscape infused with Hispanic folklore; the unpolished, gravelly vocals of poet and percussionist Roman Diaz creating a sense of exotic mysticism on tracks such as Our Birthright and the opener, One.
The young, but already remarkably accomplished, pianist brings bassist Ben Street and drummer Andrew Cyrille together for an album that revels in experimental simplicity. Tracks such as Spectral ebb and flow with sound, the layering of the harmonium over the dispersed piano notes juxtaposes a rich, pervasive tone with a crisp melody. The aggressive percussion of this track gives way as the record slips into Unseen Mother; here, the piano speaks alone, a sense of musical abandonment more than justifying its title. Virelles’s willingness to play alone on such tracks demonstrates a telling confidence, with the whole album operating as an exercise in self-control.
It is really only on Our Birthright that Virelles allows the music to spill over into an exuberant wave of polyphonic dialogue; the addition of saxophonists Mark Turner and Roman Filiu and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson engendering a competition of voice and space – a convergence and clash of cultures. It is around Our Birthright that the entire album focuses, becoming, as we listen on, the centre of energy from which the rest of the album draws strength. Indeed, like most great albums, this is more than simply a collection of assorted recordings; instead, Continuum requires listening to in a single sitting.
Whilst his playing is itself laudable, it is Virelles’s job as bandleader that deserves plaudits. His readiness to take a backseat on Manongo Pabio, providing the backdrop of the organ to Cyrille’s textured percussion, demonstrates that this is not an exercise in self-promotion but the production of a truly exquisite album. In doing so, Cyrille is able to produce one of the most fascinating percussion tracks you will hear – at no time descending into self-indulgence as so often such solo efforts do.
In listening to Continuum one can hear Virelles laying down a marker for avant-garde jazz. The Cuban touch-point at no time suggesting a Buena Vista Social Club record; instead, Virelles looks deeper into the culture and draws out an ethnographic impression of his heritage. In combining this with the East Coast progressive jazz of his schooling, Virelles creates an artistic bridge between two cultures – tradition and modernity fusing within his sound. Where he progresses from here will ultimately determine the longevity of his entire project, but at only twenty-nine one can be certain that there will be plenty to follow.
W. J. Humphries