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Jazz Notes: Pianist David Virelles Contemplates With a Rich Polyrhythmic Groove at Jazz Standard

By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, February  5, 2018

When the Cuban-born, New York-based David Virelles took the stage at the Jazz Standard on January 30, he exuded a confident air of upending the typical piano-led ensemble. He didn’t pose with long runs of bombast or stretch out with flashy technique. Instead he served up a series of stories underscored by a contemplative approach and undergirded by the polyrhythmic simpatico support of his band Nosotros, comprised of bassist Rashaan Carter (mostly on acoustic), timbales cooker Keisel Jiménez and the master percussionist Román Díaz who has been called an elder repository of Afro-Cuban music from Havana.

Most of the set unfolded as a segue of songs without introductions (though at the end of the set Virelles informed the crowd that they had been playing songs from his sophomore ECM recording Gnosis and newer unrecorded pieces the band had been exploring) and seemingly without endings (the difficulty in the crowd knowing when to applaud). Based on the folkloric music of his homeland combined with his ingenuity in composition and modern classical music influence, Virelles delivered a set teeming with ample surprises as he launched into playful key pouncing and angular chordal grooves that would flow into lyrical subtlety before a river of left-handed tumult with twisted chords. Instead of powering swells of notes, Virelles played with patience, his expressive pianism plunked into pockets of short musical pictographs. Nothing was predictable, which is a rare feat to achieve today in the traps of jazz tradition.

In lieu of stop-the-show solo spots for his band mates, Virelles featured their prowess on their instruments within the context of the songs which kept the journey fluid. Of particular note was Díaz who would speed on his congas as if he were going to explode with fire then after a minute stop and let the band fill in the rhythms. He was never flashy or overbearing as he explored the spectrum of color with his biankoméko kit. He instinctively rang his chain of bells at junctures, kept clave with a long, finned metal percussion instrument. He evocatively sang in Spanish, spurring the leader on with his flair on the keys. In this sense Virelles’ band Nosotros exhibited a communal narrative which again is rare today. It made this show simple yet special.


Cover: David Virelles; photo: Shawn Peters / ECM Records


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