Composer-Pianist Manuel Valera Conjures Deep Roots on Sixth Outing as a Leader, New Cuban Express


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After flirting with Latin rhythms within a modern post-bop context on his five previous releases, the brilliant Cuban-born pianist and composer Manuel Valera has put together the album of a lifetime. As a followup to 2009's trio recording, Currents, a savvy collection of jazz standards and originals, Valera has dipped into his own Afro-Cuban roots on his superb new release, New Cuban Express. Accompanied by fellow Cuban musician Yosvany Terry on alto sax, Tom Guarna on guitar, John Benitez on electric bass, Eric Doob on drums and Mauricio Herrera on percussion, Valera and his empathetic crew summon up percolating polyrhythmic grooves on this outstanding clave-fueled outing.

Alternating between piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano, with touches of Mini-Moog and synth seasonings layered onto the highly-charged proceedings, Valera stretches on driving numbers like the infectious title track, the burning “Choices," the turbulent “Gismonteando," the chopsbusting “Cinco Contra Tres" and the urgent funk-fusion closer “Makuta." He reveals a romantic side on the traditional flavored “Danzon," which erupts into a scintillating son montuno jam midway through with spirited call-and-response statements from Terry on soprano sax and Guarna switching from acoustic to electric guitar. “Upwards" triggers memories of Chick Corea's spicy synth-laden outing from the '70s, My Spanish Heart, while Valera wails on Fender Rhodes on “Choices" and “Regards." The two well-chosen covers here are the harmonically intriguing “Me Faltabuas Tu," by Jose Antonio Mendez, and the percolating Afro-Cuban workout “Poly," by Emiliano Salvador.

Throughout this potent, hard-hitting outing, Valera joins with guitarist Guarna and saxophonist Terry on tight, chops-busting unison lines while Benitez and Doob combine with percussionist Herrera to provide the churning polyrhythmic undercurrent. Guarna and Terry also distinguish themselves with their sizzling solo contributions on Valera's most fully-realized outing to date. And Herrera, who plays bata on “Interlude," takes a dramatic conga solo on “Intro to Gismonteando" and contributes an energized timbales solo on “Poly," provides the all-important Afro-Cuban flavor on this rootsy project.

Currently based in New York, where he has resided since enrolling at the New School in 2000 and subsequently studied with pianist Richie Bierach, saxophonist George Garzone and bassist Reggie Workman, Valera is establishing his rep within jazz circles as a talent deserving of wider recognition as both a prolific composer and accomplished pianist who is directly tied to the Chick Corea-Herbie Hancock-Keith Jarrett lineage. With a killer crew on board for his latest release as a leader, the Cuban-born artist takes a major leap forward in his promising career with his sixth outstanding release as a leader, New Cuban Express.

This story appears courtesy of Two for the Show Media.
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