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David Virelles: Nuna (Pi/El Tivoli)

A review of the pianist's mostly solo program

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Cover of David Virelles album Nuna
Cover of David Virelles album Nuna

Like most of his recent work on the ECM and Pi labels, pianist/composer David Virelles’ Nuna is an attempt to join Cuban folkloric and traditional elements with deconstructed melodies and modern extended harmonies. It’s mostly a solo piano program, although three pieces feature percussionist Julio Barreto, best known for his work with Gonzalo Rubalcaba. (Virelles also plays percussion, beginning the album with a dark, mysterious marimbula solo.)

The music slips and slides in and out of genre. Virelles wears his influences on his sleeve: Chopin and Scriabin, but also the lesser-known Algerian pianist Mustapha Skandrani and Ethiopia’s Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. There are nods on the album to several Cuban composers, including Mariano Mercerón and Sindo Garay, and an homage to the underrated, sophisticated pianist Bola de Nieve. That’s a pretty broad palette to work from, but it’s all filtered through his contemporary, modernistic sensibility. Much of Nuna sounds like a composer walking you through his process and improvising in the moment. There are times, as in the composition “Tessellations,” when he plays with a phrase, then turns it upside down and inside out: abstraction that leads to defragmentation.  

High points include the whispered prayer of “Rezo”; the gorgeous, harmonically wandering “Ocho”; and the sepia-tinged “Al Compás de Mi Viejo Tres,” with its surprising deceptive cadences. The dense, restless “Simple Answer” is anything but. There is a staggered mambo, a fractured clave on “Pórtico,” and beautiful truth unfolding on the closing “Casa.” Virelles describes Nuna as “a metaphor for the piano as an ancient instrument.” But in such creative hands, it’s simultaneously contemporary and futuristic. 

Learn more about Nuna at Amazon

David Virelles: Mystery, History

Larry Appelbaum

Larry Appelbaum is a recently retired Jazz Reference Specialist in the Music Division at the Library of Congress, where he discovered the tapes of the 1957 Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane concert at Carnegie Hall that were subsequently issued by Blue Note Records in 2005. He is a longtime radio host on WPFW-FM in Washington, D.C.