David Virelles, Román Díaz, Nosotros Ensemble

In this vivid and exciting project, the Santiago-raised and New York-based pianist-composer David Virelles looks towards one melting pot from the vantage point of another. A far-reaching work with deep cultural roots, Gnosis speaks of transculturation and traditions, and of the complex tapestry of Cuba’s music – the sacred, the secular, and the ritualistic – but the work’s shapes and forms could only have been created by a gifted contemporary player thoroughly versed in the art of the improvisers. Strings, woodwinds and percussion all have their roles to play in Gnosis, viewed by Virelles as “several families functioning within one unit: this dynamic symbolizes multicultural interaction.” Virelles’ responsive piano and the vocals and percussion of Román Díaz, a profound figure in the transmission of Afro-Cuban musical history, are at the centre of the action. Gnosis was recorded at New York’s Avatar Studios in May 2016 and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Santiago, New York. Zwei Städte, zwei Welten. Pianist und Komponist David Virelles, der in Kuba geboren wurde und in den USA lebt, kann auf beide Schmelztiegel aus dem Winkel des jeweils anderen blicken. Sein neues, ungewöhnliches Album Gnosis wurzelt tief: Es zehrt und erzählt vom kulturellen Austausch, von alten Traditionen und vom Reichtum der kubanischen Musik – ob sie sakral, weltlich oder rituell ist. Die vielfältigen Formen des Werks sind vor allem Virelles‘ unerschöpflicher Improvisationskunst zu verdanken. Streicher, Holzbläser und Perkussion spielen in Gnosis fast gegensätzliche Rollen, doch Virelles sieht sie als „verschiedene Familien, die alle innerhalb einer Einheit funktionieren“. „Diese Dynamik“, sagt er, „symbolisiert die multikulturelle Interaktion.“ Virelles‘ variables Klavierspiel sowie Gesang und Percussion von Román Díaz, einer prägenden Figur in der Überlieferung der afrokubanischen Musikgeschichte, stehen im Zentrum des Geschehens. Gnosis wurde im Mai 2016 in den New Yorker Avatar Studios aufgenommen und von Manfred Eicher produziert.
Featured Artists Recorded

May 2016, Avatar Studios, New York

Original Release Date


  • 1Del Tabaco y el Azúcar
    (David Virelles)
  • 2Fitití Ñongo
    (David Virelles)
  • 3Lengua I
    (David Virelles)
  • 4Erume Kondó
    (David Virelles, Traditional)
  • 5Benkomo
    (David Virelles, Traditional)
  • 6Tierra
    (David Virelles)
  • 7De Ida y Vuelta I
    (David Virelles)
  • 8Lengua II
    (David Virelles)
  • 9De Ida y Vuelta II
    (David Virelles)
  • 10Nuná
    (David Virelles)
  • 11Epílogo
    (David Virelles, Traditional)
  • 12Dos
    (David Virelles)
  • 13Caracola
    (David Virelles)
  • 14Visiones Sonoras
    (David Virelles)
  • 15De Portal
    (David Virelles)
  • 16De Tres
    (David Virelles)
  • 17De Cuando Era Chiquita...
    (David Virelles)
  • 18De Coral
    (David Virelles)
This pianist is guided by Afro-Cuban folklore and a respect for the recondite. His work takes you by the hand, leads you into darkness, whispers secrets that you’ll never find a way to retell. Mr. Virelles’s longtime musical partner and mentor is Román Díaz, the percussionist, poet and spiritual historian; his voice is the all-encompassing force that declaims across ‘Erume Kondó.’ Like most of the tracks on this remarkable, roaming album, the tune is brief and hypnotic — an intimation of what’s beneath and within, not an exegesis.
Giovanni Russonello, New York Times
Ohne Cuba-Klischees zu bemühen, setzt Virelles das fort, was er mit den Alben ‘Continuum’ und ‘Mbókò‘ begonnen hatte. Vergleiche mit anderen Kunstformen sind immer heikel, aber die (süd- und mittelamerikanische) Moderne des ‚magischen Realismus‘ spielt offenbar mit hinein in das verzaubernde Klanggeschehen. […] Ungewöhnliche Klänge sprießen ständig hervor, wie beim kurzen Bass-Solo Thomas Morgans, den schnarrenden Tönen der Marimbula, auch mal einem Schellenbaum in Kombination mit tiefer Trommel. Ein nie langweiliges, ungemein vibrierendes und mit viel Formbewusstsein sowie Sinn für spontane Geistesblitze inszeniertes Hörabenteuer.
Karl Lippegaus; Fono Forum
Mr. Virelles, who is 33 and a New Yorker since 2009, is a pianist of remarkable skill and unwavering ambition. […] focused research infuses this music, yet the expression is purely visceral and the context imagined. The richness of chamber-music interplay arrives free of rhythmic rigidity. The ingredients of ritual music form cells for compositions that, in spots, give way to improvisation that again, in new ways, bears a ritual feel.
Larry Blumenfeld, Wall Street Journal
‚Gnosis‘ ist ein aus achtzehn zwischen einer und fünf Minuten langen Stücken bestehendes, unglaublich buntes und facettenreiches Klanggemälde, das fern jeglicher Kuba-Klischees deutlich näher an der kreativen amerikanischen Gegenwartsmusik orientiert ist. Wie schon bei seinem 2014 erschienenen ECM-Debut ‚Mbókò‘ spielt auch hier wieder der Biankoméko-Trommler und Sänger Román Díaz mit seinem Wissen um uralte Traditionen, Rituale und magische Geschichten den kreativen Widerpart und Ansporn für David Virelles. Aber auch vier Streicher, am bekanntesten Kontrabassist Thomas Morgan, zwei Bläser und vier Perkussionisten dienen dem einfallsreichen Komponisten als Reservoir für ein breites Spektrum an Klangfarben und vielfältigen Rhythmen.
Peter Füßl, Kultur
This session, with strings, flute, vocals and four percussionists led by the Cuban drums guru Roman Diaz, sees Virelles deepening his exploration of the fission points between ancient African Cuban traditions and the music of his own era. The opening is an impressionistic drift across preoccupied percussion tappings, the glowing resonances of the marimbula (which sounds like a plucked marimba), and Thomas Morgan’s pizzicato bass. Breezy dance rhythms then guide left-hand piano vamps driving right-hand free improv. Dark, street-throbbing grooves are challenged by imperiously talkative Diaz vocals, while contemporary classical flute and clarinet meditations release storming freebop piano breaks. It’s a big, inclusive musical story, told in revealingly patient and personal narratives.
John Fordham, The Guardian
Fruit d’une longue maturation, David Virelles nous offer bien plus qu’un discque supplémentaire: une oeuvre maîtresse de la première moitié du XXI siècle! […] Intense, inventif, intelligent, inouï!
Ludovic Florin, Jazz Magazine
 ‘Gnosis’ represents a meeting of worlds—old and new, Latin and North American—a concept David Virelles knows well. Born to musician parents in Cuba and trained in Toronto and New York, it comes as little surprise that he developed his compositional voice by uniting the musical language of his upbringing with the modern jazz of his new North American home. Gnosis also signifies new sonic territory for the young pianist; working with an extended ensemble featuring cello, viola, clarinets, and a wide variety of Afro-Cuban percussion, ‘Gnosis’ is undoubtedly the most ambitious musical project he’s undertaken to date. […] ‘Gnosis’ is a stellar recording from the young pianist, one that honors tradition while embracing innovation. While undeniably abstract and esoteric at times, Virelles’ latest can still communicate with audiences who remain open to new sounds and ideas.
Andy Jurik, Popmatters
In rascher Folge wechseln die Texturen, trifft Unfassbares auf Fassbares, irrlichtern Klänge wie Geistwesen durch den Raum, ehe Rhythmen Gestalt annehmen. […] Viele handeln David Virelles als Klang-Visionär. Mit Recht.
Ssirus W. Pakzad, Abendzeitung
Pianist David Virelles mixes solo performances with group meetings as he teams with Roman Diaz and Nosotros Ensemble on this album. By himself, his touch is thoughtful, free and percussive […] With the Ensemble, you get strings, percussion, reeds and tribal vocals as on the earthy ‘Benkomo’ and the world-wide and spacious ‘Tierra’ with flute and sax teaming with rumbling percussion. The contrast between group format and intimate lone instrument makes for an intriguing contrast of colors, with Virelles sounding at times like a one man band. Personal and yet public.
George W. Harris, Jazz weekly
He uses ‘Gnosis’ to refer to ancient collective knowledge, and this music is about the intersection of cultures—contemporary improvisational language and Cuban sources, especially the sacred Abakuá percussion ensemble. There are over a dozen instrumentalists and vocalists employed, but they are mostly broken up into various small ensembles: the concert premiere was billed as ‘futuristic Afro-Cuban chamber music.’ […] Sections with the full ensemble (often with Allison Loggins-Hull’s flute in the lead) such as ‘Tierra’ and ‘Visiones Sonoras’ alternate with more vocal selections, another feature for Morgan’s bass with percussion (‘Nuná’), and solo piano. In fact Virelles closes out the set on piano with two unaccompanied tracks (‘De Cuando Era Chiquita’ and ‘De Coral’). Yet the entire program maintains a consistent tone, simultaneously ancient and contemporary: a ritual for the modern world.
Mark Sullivan, All About Jazz
Pianist David Virelles’ reflection on cross-cultural interplay combines Cuban rhythmic thrust, New York bite and a profound sense of magic and mystery. The spectrum of influences is broad. […] Pieces vary from pristine solo piano improvisations to rumbustious Latin dances and from all-out piano improv to the modern-classical textures of the Nosotros Ensemble. Virelles holds the strands together from the piano with a firm touch.
Mike Hobart, Financial Times
Virelles spielt zum einen Solostücke, entweder ganz ins Offene oder in klug upgedateten Impressionismen. Zum anderen hört man ihn im Wechsel mit einer Art Kammerorchester aus Streichern, Holzbläsern und Percussion, manchmal mit ritualistischem Call-and-Response-Gesang unter Führung des Dichters Roman Díaz. Interessanter Punkt hier, wie Virelles in der Vokalperformance und der vielköpfigen, oft wogend afrokubanischen Percussion seine Heimat herbeispielt – und doch in abstrakten Kontrasten und splittrigen Klavierclustern, in offenen Linien und Klangräumen denkt.
Markus Schneider, Rolling Stone (Germany)
To Cuban-born, New York-based pianist David Virelles, ‘gnosis’ refers to ‘an ancient collective reservoir of knowledge.’ ‘Gnosis’, his fourth album as a leader – featuring poet-percussionsit Roman Díaz as spiritual collaborator – draws on everything from improvisational sound-painting to punctilious solo piano improvisations, contemporary chamber music, 20th-century Romantic composition and a solo piano arrangement by 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning composer Henry Threadgill. […] Such attractive surfaces and the program’s tautness should encourage repeat listening, during which insights into the underlying structure of this multi-dimensional work will be revealed.
Howard Mandel, Downbeat
No matter which side of the pianist’s musical persona is articulated on ‘Gnosis’, it comes across in toto as a balanced work in its entirety, full of interrogation and erudition. It may not be an ‘easy’ work to absorb initially, but with repeated listening, it become far less oblique; one need only use the episodic piano solos as guides. Virelles wrote ‘Gnosis’ not as a statement but as a series of plausible yet labyrinthine questions. Its beauty lies in that fact that though his questions have purpose and direction, they are, by their very nature, unanswerable.
Thom Jurek, All Music
Er schöpft hier ebenso aus dem uralten Fundus kubanischer Traditionen wie auch aus den Klängen religiöser Kulte, aus Tanz, aus Jazz. Seine künstlerische Fantasie reicht weit, die Besetzung ist entsprechend groß und schließt ein Streichquartett mit Viola, zwei Celli mit Bassist Thomas Morgan mit ein, dazu kommen diverse Perkussionisten und Instrumente wie Marimbula, Klarinette und Flöte. Die meist nur zwei bis drei Minuten langen Stücke geben jeweils einen kurzen Blick frei auf neue Aspekte eines immer noch rätselhaften kubanischen Erbes, nicht ohne die eigene Perspektive –  Virelles lebt in Brooklyn, New York – mit zu reflektieren. Ebenso philosophisch wie faszinierend.
Joachim Weis, Jazzthetik
He’s a sideman of choice in those top drawer contemporary jazz line-ups. On ‘Gnosis’ he unfurls an even broader canvas, referencing jazz, his Cuban roots with explicitly African resonances, and contemporary classical music. It is a suite of eighteen short pieces, some the briefest of sketches, none outstaying their welcome. Solo piano pieces are scattered amongst percussion heavy Cuban grooves, tribal chants, fully scored ensemble pieces and spacious, free, explorations. […] This is a remarkable album. Virelles’ imagination and compositions succeed in melding sounds and musical language from across the globe, evoking powerful images and making compelling listening. His singular voice and touch at the piano is the connecting thread throughout.
Mike Collins, London Jazz News
His association with vocalist and percussionist Román Díaz began with the pianist’s second album and Díaz’s presence is felt keenly on tracks like ‘Benkomo’, ‘Epílog’ and ‘Erume Kondó’, where his part-sun, part-spoken interjections add a dramatic dimension to the pieces. […] this album’s understated ingenuity is consistently compelling throughout.
Roger Farbey, Jazz Journal
Virelles schlägt Brücken, entwickelt visionäre Szenarien, schüttet die kubanischen und New Yorker Schmelztiegel zusammen. Allerdings nicht nach dem Zufallsprinzip; denn letztlich ist bei Virelles spannenden Konstruktionen jeder Ton der oft komplexen Arrangements aus Streichern, Holzbläsern und natürlich viel Percussion (hier allen voran der große Meister Román Díaz) am einzig möglichen Platz. Mit dem, was man gemeinhin unter Latin Jazz versteht, hat ‚Gnosis’ wenig gemein. Da es sich aber definitiv um solchen handelt, darf man getrost von einer Neudefinition des Genres sprechen.
Janis Obodda, HiFi Stars
“Virelles looks set to make big differences in contemporary music for years to come.”
– The Guardian
In Gnosis, the Santiago de Cuba-raised and New York-based pianist-composer David Virelles looks towards one melting pot from the vantage point of another. At one level an autobiographical album, a sequence of images conveyed through sound, Gnosis is a far-reaching work with deep roots. Transculturation and traditions are among the subjects under consideration, and the complex tapestry of Cuba’s music: the sacred, the secular, and the ritualistic. It’s an exciting, vivid and multi-faceted project of rapidly changing temperament, in which pulsating ensemble music and pristine, meditative solo piano both have their places. And it is enveloped in a feeling of mystery and magic that has made each of Virelles’s albums special.
Gnosis speaks about the intersection of cultures”, Virelles says, “and of the continuing impact of that process in our present. The word ‘gnosis’ in this context refers to an ancient collective reservoir of knowledge. ”In Gnosis, strings, woodwinds and percussion are assigned specific responsibilities, representing “several families functioning within one unit: this dynamic symbolizes multicultural interaction.” Inside the ensemble pieces, Virelles’ responsive piano and the vocals and percussion of poet/drummer Román Díaz, a profound figure in the transmission of Afro-Cuban musical history, are often at the centre of the action, carrying the story further.
Drawing upon Cuban sources of many kinds, Virelles cites the influence of the early 20th century composers Amadeo Roldán and Alejandro Garcia Caturia, who pioneered the inclusion of the Afro-Cuban percussion arsenal in their orchestral settings: “Their legacy guided me through the creation of this piece.” A variety of percussion instruments have important roles to play. “Of particular interest are the marímbula and the biankoméko ensemble. The marímbula, a wooden box with metal keys, is used traditionally in changüí music. It was also used in son music, before the bass replaced it.” The biankoméko, the sacred percussion ensemble of the Abakuá fraternity, already had a central function on Virelles’ first ECM leader date, Mbókò.
Gnosis, too, draws from the musical vocabulary of the Abakuá, but for all its rich historical reference, it is a forward-looking piece, billed at its concert premiere (at Toronto’s Music Gallery in November 2015) as “futuristic Afro-Cuban chamber music.” The work’s shapes and forms could only have been created by a gifted modern player thoroughly versed in contemporary composition as well as the art of the improvisers. As the New York Times has observed, Virelles “has a sure touch and multiple musical vocabularies, of which he seems determined to create a synthesis that isn’t schematic or obvious.”
Most of Gnosis was written in New York, where Virelles is now recognized as one of the most consistently creative players on the improvising scene. In the words of the Wall Street Journal, he has “fully absorbed the environments of two islands, Cuba and Manhattan, and now exerts influence through subtle innovations.” In addition to his own groups he is currently playing with Chris Potter and with Tomasz Stanko, as documented on several ECM recordings (refer to Potter’s The Dreamer Is The Dream and The Sirens and Stanko’s December Avenue and Wisława). He has also maintained close connections with musicians associated with the AACM, including Muhal Richard Abrams and Henry Threadgill, with whom he studied composition. Threadgill, who appeared on Virelles’ Antenna EP, is also the arranger of “Dos”, one of the solo piano pieces here. Another important ongoing association is with Ravi Coltrane. Virelles has played with the saxophonist’s quartet, and latterly given duo concerts with him; a Coltrane/Virelles performance at the 2017 New York Winter Jazzfest was hailed as a highlight of the event.
David Virelles was born into a musical family in Santiago de Cuba, his mother a classical flautist, and his father a singer/songwriter. He moved to Canada in 2001 and to New York City in 2009. The pianist’s album Continuum (Pi Recordings) was his initial exploration in the modernist refraction of Afro-Cuban ritual sounds and his first recorded collaboration with Román Díaz. Subsequent ECM leader-dates Mbókò and Antenna have received the highest critical praise, the latter garnering a 5-star review in DownBeat and an Editor’s Pick recommendation in JazzTimes, where Mike Shanley opined that “ECM couldn’t have picked more radical and freewheeling music for its return to releasing new projects on vinyl.” Gnosis, too, is issued in an audiophile vinyl edition, as well as compact disc and digital download formats.
Gnosis was recorded at New York’s Avatar Studios in May 2016, and produced by Manfred Eicher.