At one end of the spectrum there are musicians who clearly have a limited range of influences and a limited creative scope, who sometimes can do a lot with very little but who most often stretch their poverty of resources and inspiration out in music which just seems to go on and on despite the track being barely two minutes old.
At the other end is music which bursts with ideas, develops in this direction and that, which is enriched by a diverse range of influences, all conveyed with an abundance of technique and possibly even that indefinable gift which cannot be learned but must be bestowed. By a god? By luck? Through the blood? A track from such a musician has one checking the CD player – heavens, are we still only on track one! I’ve had an album’s worth of riches already.
Yilian Cañizares, a Cuban-born, Swiss-resident, violinist, vocalist, composer and bandleader, is most definitely in that second category. Her second album under her own name – there are two preceding ones in the name of the Ochumare Quartet – is threatening to take up permanent residence in my CD player and is revealing fresh joys with each play.
It opens with a traditional song, Beroni Abede Osun, Cañizares singing while plucking her violin in accompaniment, soon joined by her band – pianist Daniel Stawinski, bassist David Brito and drummer Cyril Regamey. The way she sings, initially in a folk manner, then adding subtle jazz phrasing, eventually becoming a choir; the way the song develops from simple folk tune to a darker instrumental section and then relaxing back into the melody; the rich sound of the band; the expert way Cañizares adjusts her vocal timbre, the darkness or lightness of her tone, suiting it to each phrase; the warmth of her violin sound; the sheer wealth of ideas in this one piece – as you can tell, there is lot happening in that 4 minutes 26 seconds. And a lot to love.
And there are nine more tracks to go! I won’t detail them all or we’ll be here all day. Cañizares sings in Spanish, the Yoruba of her forefathers, in wordless improvisation – and in French for Edith Piaf’s Non Je Regrette Rien, the only other non-original composition which is a charming, Cuban-rhythmed tribute to one of her inspirations. The album remembers not only Piaf but her own grandfather, an ancestor who was born a slave but died a free woman, and the Venezuelan singer Simón Diaz.
The richness of her music becomes clearer when one delves into her background. Growing up in Cuba she studied classical violin, moving to Venezuela to continue her studies and then to Switzerland where she now teaches violin and jazz improvisation in Lausanne. Listening to Stephane Grappelli lured her towards jazz, her interest in her ancestors and in her rich mix of African and Cuban heritage did the rest, and gives her a style that is broadly eclectic and at the same time absolutely true to her as an individual musician. Which is why her music feels so right.
The violin is not an instrument that I am naturally drawn to – and in jazz it can sound strident. But Cañizares has such a marvellously rich, chocolatey tone that she has won me over. Unusually, she is able to sing and play simultaneously. Her band is marvellous, too. Those Cuban rhythms subtly kicking up a gear at just the right moment, the bass lines sinuous and the arco accompaniments to the violin a treat, the piano solos exciting, its support so graceful – it feels like a band that is delighted to be doing just what it is doing.
Cañizares’ compositions give them all they could possibly want. There is a lovely sense of tension and release, and then each song contains at least three strong melodies, three strong rhythms, three strong moods… they overflow with ideas and the sheer joy of music-making.
Invocación is one of my listening highlights of 2016 and I’m pretty sure I’ll still feel that way by the end of the year. Surely we will see her play live in the UK before too long – festivals, are you listening? Here is the band augmented by an additional percussionst, live at TED Global in Geneva:
- And find out what Yilian likes for breakfast – along with the early morning tastes of many other jazz people – on this site’s Breakfasts page, HERE.
Categories: CD review