Primary Instrument: Piano
With the release of The Source In Between, Elio Villafranca once again demonstrates why he’s at the forefront of the generation of remarkable Cuban pianists, composers and bandleaders that for several years has been making major creative contributions to the international development of modern jazz. Leading a core quartet featuring tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, bassist Jeff Carney and the Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, Villafranca presents a program of nine originals and a Latin re-mix of the CD’s title track that goes a step beyond the stylistic terrain he explored on Incantations/Encantaciones, his solo recording debut from 2003 that was named one of that year’s top 50 jazz CDs by JazzTimes.
While Villafranca’s first album adapted Afro Cuban and other indigenous Latin American music styles to a modern jazz context, this new recording maintains a balance between the authentic Cuban pianism that distinguishes Latin jazz and the straight-ahead playing characteristic of bebop and subsequent modern styles in the U.S. yet avoids the conventional in both genres—in fact there are moments that flirt with free jazz. Yet the presence on The Source In Between of complex rhythms and elements of the Latin styles that defined his first CD reveals the pianist has not abandoned his native roots. And the instrumental textures and dimensions of his compositions—while as modern as any jazz being created today—also pay tribute to the modern jazz legacy of the brilliant composer Thelonious Monk, the virtuoso instrumentalist John Coltrane and other North American jazz masters. This year Mr. Villafranca was honored by BMI with the BMI Jazz Guaranty Award.
Born in the Pinar del Rio province of Western Cuba, Villafranca was classically trained in percussion and composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba. Since his arrival in the U.S. in late 1995, he has been involved in jazz and Latin jazz scenes on both the East and West Coasts. Inspired by jazz and other musical genres that developed as a result of the African Diaspora, Villafranca creates original cultural and musical fusions notable for their spirited, groundbreaking innovations and has composed and arranged original soundtracks for PBS documentaries and a variety of independent films. Based in New York City he is resident professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Over the years his Quartet has included as members with Grammy nominated Blue Note recording artists guitarist Pat Martino and the Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett and trumpeter Terell Stafford, among other notable instrumentalists, and has performed in New York City at the Blue Note, Jazz Standard, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola and other venues.
As a sideman Villafranca has collaborated sideman with leading jazz and Latin jazz artists including: Wynton Marsalis; Jon Faddis; Sonny Fortune; Dave Valentin; Lenny White; Horacio El Negro Hernandez; Ralph Peterson; Giovanni Hidalgo; Eddie Henderson; Miguel Zenón; Cándido Camero; and Johnny Pacheco, among others. Villafranca toured Europe with Bunnett (in The Spirits of Havana) and Martino (in the Pat Martino Quintet) and performed with each at various world-renowned venues and events including the Blue Note Jazz Festival in Ghent, Belgium; in Italy at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Milan and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia; and at the North Sea Jazz Festival at The Hague, Holland.
Growing up next door to a local cultural center... surely help to develop his loaded, technically superior, sharp and romantic pianism. —JazzTimes
It is not difficult to sort out Villafranca’s musicality, brute force, effervescence, topicality, virtuosic independence, patience, candor, and brazen delicacy… This recording is a welcome relief among both recent jazz and Latin jazz releases and it makes one wonders where Villafranca will go next. Wherever he goes, one must follow. —All About Jazz
Villafranca is at the level of his countrymen, Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba... one of our musical treasures, it is a pleasure to witness the evolution of a soon to be truly great artist. He emotes an expressive, emotional quality enhanced by his technically brilliant approach to the keyboard and his rhythmically complex original compositions... —Philadelphia Tribune
Villafranca proved to be the surprise of the night as he dug into the piano with a seasoned jazz flair. The influence of Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock and Chucho Valdés were obvious. But it was his 'Garneresque' use of block chords that gave a joyous harmonic lyricism. His intuition was right on the mark. —Latin Beat Magazine
To those who say that music is the universal language that does not stop for styles, this is your release. Elio Villafranca has put together a very special hour of Latin that is jazz and jazz that is Latin. This is a fire-blown instrumental CD. [Villafranca] really knows how to shake a keyboard sound. He will often glide over all 88 with an ease usually kept for God's grown prodigies of classical music. —Latin American Rhythm Magazine
The bilingual title of Elio Villafranca's debut CD, Incantations Encantaciones (Universal Latino), is fitting given that there's as much Herbie Hancock as there is Chucho Valdes in his playing. The pianist left Cuba for Philly in 1995 (he has since made the leap to NYC), arriving with a solid knowledge of American jazz as well as the music of his native island. —City Papel Musicpicks
Elio Villafranca fits the mold set by Ruben Gonzales and those Cuban pianists before him, but you never doubt his originality. [Incantation/Encantaciones] is an adventurous study of feelings. Until you see Villafranca perform, with eyes zonked out in contemplation of the keys, you may not put him in the same serious light as Monk, Corea or Mingus, but he warrants the comparison. —Splendid Reviews
Elio Villafranca is the latest in the dynasty of great Afro-Cuban pianists to transplant his own exquisite combination of jazz, classical and Latin American influences to North American shores. The Bronx-based composer cites Schoenberg and Santer'a, with a keyboard mastery that is at times driving, at times lushly romantic. Definitely one for jazz fans to keep an eye on. —Independent
(Universal Latin/Pimienta) 2003
Featuring: Pat Martino, Terell Stafford and Jane Bunnett Carlos Henriquez, Dafnis Prieto, Wilson Corniel, Pedro Martinez, and Giovana Guevara
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