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Francisco Mela: A Jazz Drummer Who Says Cuba, S; Salsa, No

SOURCE: Published: 2007-09-08
Since Cuban musicians, and drummers in particular, have played such a strong and complicated role in jazz's history, the Cuban drummer Francisco Mela's new quintet seems almost unfairly significant from the start.

Truthfully, it's still undercooked. It would need a few months of touring to sound more fluid than it did on Wednesday night at the Blue Note, and who knows whether that's possible? (He's also the drummer in Joe Lovano's quartet, and the foreseeable future looks busy.)

Mr. Mela is in his late 30s but new to American audiences. He came here in 1997 to study at Berklee and released his first album, “Melao," only last year. His new band is very current, very New York, and it doesn't sound like Latin jazz. “I am from Cuba, yes," Mr. Mela explained to the audience before the band played a note. “But this is not salsa."

These songs had new ideas about form. It was never just theme-solos-theme, and not all five musicians contributed to each tune. Various players left the stage for stretches and then reappeared when needed.

Recurring melodies made each tune cohere, but they felt episodic. A short strict-time section would give way to a short rubato section, and solos were often short passageways to the next written section, instead of events in themselves.

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