Posts Tagged ‘ Manuel Valera ’

Manuel Valera – Urban Landscape

Music seems to just ooze from the mind and fingers of Manuel Valera. Over the last few years, he’s released several recordings, among them two with New Cuban Express, one solo piano effort and as a sideman to his father, Manuel Valera Sr. Now with a new ensemble, Groove Square, Valera delivers Urban Landscape (Destiny Records, 2015).

Valera plays Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, Prophet 08 and Hammond organ. With him are John Ellis, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Nir Felder, guitar; John Benitez, bass; E.J. Strickland and Jeff “Tain’ Watts, drums; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; and Paula Stagnaro and Maurice Herrera, percussion.

Guitar and tenor join for the melody of “121st Street.” The song has a slight funk groove. After the first few lines, Ellis takes off on a spirited jaunt. Benitez and Strickland remain locked in during the solo. Then Valera takes a turn on the Rhodes. The melody resumes, setting up Felder’s expressive solo during the finale.

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Manuel Valera – In Motion

Grammy nominated pianist and composer Manuel Valera continues to churn out ear candy. Having recently collaborated with his father, Manuel Valera Sr. and released a solo piano set, he’s back with his band, New Cuban Express, for their third venture, In Motion (Criss Cross Jazz, 2014)

Valera plays piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano. With him are Yosvany Terry, alto and soprano saxophones, and chekere; Tom Guarna, guitar; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet and flugelhorn; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums; and Mauricio Herrera, percussion.

It’s like a confluence of Tito Puento, Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval “Descargando” is a lively opening track. It’s as if Valera said, “Let’s just play.” The song captures many moods, represented by each musician, as they all get a moment or two in the spotlight. Terry and Sipiagin are out front much of the way, blending for a bright, sunny melody, and separating as they trade verses. A highlight is a call and response between Valera and the percussionists, which sets up the leader’s climactic solo near the end.

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Manuel Valera – Self Portrait

Reviewing instrumental music is always a challenge. Finding a way to express in words what a song or album concept sounds like, and doing it in a manner that helps the reader make a decision on whether to buy a recording, all without being redundant or using clichés is not an easy task.

The challenge is even greater when it comes to solo piano. So you can rest assured that if a writer does review such a work, the recording more than warrants it. Such is the case with Manuel Valera’s Self Portrait (Mavo Records, 2014).

Valera decided to focus on four elements in creating this work. He wanted to present his jazz influence, covering songs by Bill Evans, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk; his Cuban roots with two Latin jazz pieces; his classical influence, with the “Impromptu” selections; and his own compositions. For this date, Valera plays a restored 1918 Steinway D.

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Manuel Valera & New Cuban Express – Expectativas

Fresh off his 2013 Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz, Manuel Valera is setting up for another chance at the music industry honor. With his band, New Cuban Express, Valera releases Expectativas (Mavo Records, 2013).

Valera plays piano, Fender Rhodes and synths. New Cuban Express members are Yosvany Terry, alto and soprano saxophones and chekere; Tom Guarna, electric and acoustic guitar; John Benitez, electric bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums; Paulo Stagnaro, percussion on all but two tracks; Mauricio Herrera, batas on “Isabelita” and percussion on two songs. Special guest Manuel Valera Sr. plays alto saxophone on “La Gloria Eres Tu,” the album’s lone cover song.

The title song is upbeat but has an ambient quality. Terry leads much of the way with the soprano sax, at times paired with Guarna’s electric guitar. Though starkly Latin jazz, this piece has a symphonic element about it. Whatever instrument is out front, one can’t not be aware of the bass, drums and percussion. Listen for Afonso’s toms and cymbals regardless of what else is going on. Valera takes point about mid-song. After his solo, the band engages in a call and response with Afonso and Stagnaro answering the calls of the others.

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