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David Virelles: Mboko

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Among young jazz pianists with exceptional technical facility, David Virelles is atypical in his willingness to make chops subservient to an esoteric cause and a minimalist concept.

The subtitle of Mbókò is “Sacred Music for Piano, Two Basses, Drum Set and Biankoméko Abakuá.” “Sacred” refers to the music’s roots in the rituals of the Abakuá Secret Society, which came from West Africa to Virelles’ native country, Cuba. Two bassists, Thomas Morgan and Robert Hurst, create a dual bass drone. Drummer Marcus Gilmore and Román Díaz, who plays a four-drum kit called the biankoméko, conjure rapt, intermittent, mostly quiet polyrhythms. In this environment of implicit suspense and sublimated ardor, Virelles’ piano arrays clusters and colors in the open spaces, or not.

Mbókò requires patience and faith. The first two tracks, “Wind Rose” and “The Scribe,” are ambient dreamscapes. Small increments of intensity take on possible meanings. “Biankoméko,” the third track, does not “go” anywhere. It circles on itself, a fervent ceremony, Virelles’ right hand ringing tremolos. Sometimes the two bassists veer off the drone to add a third and fourth accentual domain. By the fourth track, “Antillais,” pent-up energy releases, the four rhythm players clattering and throbbing, Virelles spiking and lunging in their midst.

On a piece like “Stories Waiting to Be Told,” even piano alone, placing fragmentary melodic images upon silence, creates expectancy. You know the drums, the drones, the addictive rhythms are waiting. And the rhythms do come, but Virelles’ responds only with more lingering mysteries. This music contains a large variety of small sonic events. They accumulate into designs that are all connotation, like runes.

The jazz art form places high value on the new. Those who can give in to this music and let it happen to them will be rewarded with a unique experience.

Originally Published