Elio Villafranca wins the International Critics Poll Rising Star in the Keyboard Category two years in a row.
By Suzanne Lorge
Jazz pianism today stands at an apex. There have been other moments in the music’s history when innovation rushed ahead of performers and listeners. But more than a century after jazz’s emergence, there are countless virtuosic pianists out there composing, recording and seeking a new vision for the genre.
As a classical music student in Havana, Cuba, Elio Villafranca would spend his lunch money on blank cassettes so he could make tapes of jazz musicians from abroad. Bootlegged recordings like this were the only way that young musicians in Cuba could hear jazz, and Villafranca often used up a month’s worth of lunch money to gain access to precious underground imports.
By Mitsutaka Yanag
"50 Best Jazz Albums of 2018" by Jazz The New Chapter (with Playlist) selected by Mitsutaka Yanagi.
Elio Villafranca’s newest album Cinque was nominated for a Grammy today in the category Best Latin Jazz Album
For vocal or instrumental albums containing at least 51% playing time of newly recorded material. The intent of this category is to recognize recordings that represent the blending of jazz with Latin, Iberian-American, Brazilian, and Argentinian tango music.
By Eugene Holley Jr.
Pianist/composer Elio Villafranca is the latest in a decades-long line of Cuban musicians who has integrated African, European and Pan-American musical concepts. His two-disc set is a compelling and complex dedication to Cinque, the Sierra Leonean who led a bloody revolt aboard the Cuban-bound, slave ship Amistad in 1839 and later was freed by John Quincy Adams.
The ensemble here primarily consists of Villafranca’s group, The Jass Syncopaters. With a pianistic style that echoes Duke Ellington and McCoy Tyner, the bandleader narrates Cinque’s story with references to the Haitian Revolution and the free Maroon colonies of runaway slaves.
By John Ephland
For five days in early May, Cuban pianist/composer Elio Villafranca set up shop at Systems Two, the state-of-the-art recording studio in Brooklyn, to record his sixth album, Cinqué (ArtistShare). The program, which includes five movements, contains music he had performed onstage at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2015.
The disc’s title refers to Joseph Cinqué (1814–’79), the West African man who led a revolt aboard the ship La Amistad, which was transporting Cinqué and others who had been captured as part of the slave trade.
“Cinqué showcases,” Villafranca said, “the cultural diversity of the five Caribbean islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, while simultaneously highlighting the African traditions woven into the fabric of each of these nations.”
By Raul da Gama
It is three days before my scheduled interview with the musician and pianist Elio Villafranca. I have long been fascinated by his ferocious talent—indeed his genius—not only as a pianist, but also for the depth of his musicianship. Mr. Villafranca is subsumed by the Afro-Caribbean tradition. His knowledge and love for the music of his ancestors has led him to acquire a deep knowledge of the history not only of Cuban music, but also of its African roots as well. His music has been informed by a unique perspective of the tradition to which he is so inextricably linked. He performs like a man possessed. His music bristles with genius. He continuously takes the road less travelled.
By Shaun Brady
Born in Cuba and classically trained, pianist Elio Villafranca has long offered a unique take on Latin jazz, foregoing the reliance on percussion pyrotechnics for a more fully integrated blend of his varied interests. That’s not to say that he can’t bring the fire when it’s called for, as he does on “Mambo Vivo,” a lively tribute to Pérez Prado on his new CD, which was recorded live in 2012 at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.
But more often he combines elements of jazz and Afro-Caribbean music with the architectural insight born of his classical training, which leads to more intriguing combinations and juxtapositions. On Caribbean Tinge, Villafranca imports rhythms from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba and filters them through three different permutations of his Jass Syncopators ensemble. That band brings stellar jazz players together with a trio of percussionists to fuse passion with complexity.
By Danilo Navas
Editor Danilo Navas and New York Co-Editor Tomas Peña Discuss Elio Villafranca and The Jass Syncopators: Caribbean Tinge Live at Dizzy’s (Motema Music)
TP: I attended the performance at Dizzy’s (Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York). You viewed it via live-stream in Toronto, Canada. How was it on your end?
DN: Technically, the sound was great. Visually, a single camera was used, as opposed to the Nuevo Jazz Latino webcast, where several cameras were used. During the first set the lighting was a bit dark, probably because the backdrop is the New York City skyline and it was still daylight. The lighting for the second set was much better.
If you’ve never been to Dizzy’s, it has been described as “the best jazz room in the city.” The acoustics are superb and it offers a panoramic view of the New York City skyline. On the evening I attended the music and the vibe could not have been better.
By Laurence A. Borden
Elio Villafranca is a gifted modern day musician traversing in both jazz and classical terrains. Born in a little town called San Luis, Cuba, in the western province of Pinar del Rio, Elio is the recipient of numerous industry accolades and awards, including one of the 50 best jazz albums of the year by JazzTimes in 2003, the pianist of the year by The Jazz Corner in 2008, the BMI Jazz Guaranty Award in 2008, the first NFA/Heineken Green Ribbon Master Artist Music Grant in the same year, and last but certainly not least, a 2010 Grammy “Best Traditional World Music Album” Award nomination for his performance composition and coproduction in his album, The Source In Between. He is the forerunner in today’s Cuban Jazz scene.