By Tyran Grillo | Published February 2017
If Cuban pianist David Virelles’ ECM leader debut, Mbókò, was a fire, then Antenna is its smoke. Both albums employ Afro-Cuban infuences to kaleidoscopic effect, but this one thrums. Known for pushing boundaries, Virelles is in fact deeply respectful of them, drawing from cultural reservoirs like a perfumer distinguishing essential sonic oils from a potent mix.
At 22 minutes, this album may seem like a flash in the pan, but the quality of its ingredients is so exquisite that repeat listening is required to savor them all. Emphasis here is on materiality of sound, as Virelles manipulates recordings of saxophonist Henry Threadgill (whose arpeggio-wrapped alto saxophone in “Water, Bird Headed Mistress” recalls the sojourns of label compatriot John Surman), drummer Marcus Gilmore and vocalist Román Díaz with meticulous abandon. Cellist and co-producer Alexander Overington, along with guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, set fire to everything they touch on “Threshold,” while poet Etián Brebaje Man raps his way through “Rumbakuá” like a lightning rod of perseverance.
“El Titán De Bronce” is the closest in spirit to Virelles’ acoustic assemblies. It walks the line between groove and breakdown with a rough-and-tumble beauty that is very much his own. Virelles frames the set with two mash-ups of field recordings and the beats of a virtual percussion ensemble he dubs Los Seres. A new direction for ECM, but a reliably engaging one for Virelles.
Antenna: Binary; Water, Bird Headed Mistress; Threshold; Rum- bakuá; El Titán De Bronce; Text. (21:44)
Personnel: David Virelles, keyboards, electronics; Alexander Over- ington, electronics, samples, cello; Henry Threadgill, alto saxophone (2); Román Díaz, vocals (3); Marcus Gilmore, drums (3, 5), MPC (4); Rafiq Bhatia, guitar (3, 5); Etián Brebaje Man, vocals (4); Mauricio Herrera, percussion (4); Los Seres, percussion (1, 6).