With Mbókò, pianist-composer David Virelles – based now in New York but born and bred in Cuba – has taken the folkloric rhythms of Afro-Cuban religious ritual and transmuted them into a 21st-century music resonating with mystery and meaning. The main title, Mbókò, can mean “fundament” or “sugar cane” or “The Voice,” not the human voice but The Voice that is believed in Abakuá culture to be the voice of a spirit, or spirits. Sound is an element revered in this culture, and that idea – the worship of sound itself – was a shaping force in the performances of Virelles’ compositions on Mbókò.
The album’s subtitle – “Sacred Music for Piano, Two Basses, Drum Set and Biankoméko Abakuá” – indicates both the ritualistic intent of the 10 pieces and their sound, with piano as lead voice alongside dual bass drone and the polyrhythmic percussion of a traditional trap set and the all-important four-drum biankoméko kit, manned by Román Diaz. Virelles has tapped into a musical impulse that is simultaneously ancient and modern, communal and personal, meditative and propulsive. Mbókò casts a spell.
Thomas Morgan: double bass
Robert Hurst: double bass
Marcus Gilmore: drums
Román Díaz: biankoméko, vocals