Francisco Mela: Melao (2006)

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Francisco Mela: Melao
Cuban-born, New York-based drummer Francisco Mela's debut as leader introduces an important new creative talent to the international jazz scene. As its title implies—literally, melao is the Spanish word for the dark syrup concocted from cane sugar; figuratively, it describes any potent mixture of varied ingredients—the disc is a musical mélange of Mela compositions with a constantly changing cast of players.

That group includes tenor saxophonists Anat Cohen, George Garzone and Joe Lovano, guitarists Lionel Loueke and Nir Felder, pianist Leo Genovese and bassist Peter Slavov. Mela achieves true variety by utilizing a different configuration of personnel and/or instrumentation on each of the ten tracks, yet he maintains a consistency in mood and sound by assiduously adhering to a musical philosophy that ingeniously melds elements of Afro-Cuban music with both traditional and free jazz.

The opening "John Ramsay, a melodious quartet outing featuring Cohen's supple, airy tenor and Loueke's gossamer guitar, gently flows into "Sopresa, which starts with a traditional Cuban vocal chant by the leader and moves into an electric Miles mode generated by Felder's ethereal electric guitar and Garzone's brawny but brooding horn. Lovano and Genovese are featured on "Arere, a hard-swinging, straight-ahead, rhythm-driven number with boppish harmonies.

"Parasuayo again combines a vocal choir sung by Mela with Garzone's dark tenor and a Miles-influenced electronic atmosphere generated by Fender Rhodes and guitar. Lovano and Garzone join forces on "Galaxy, a traditional two-tenor quintet tour de force (with Genovese at the piano), bookended by an abstract introduction and ending.

Cohen and Loueke are back on "Chela, a charming Spanish-tinged showcase for the former's formidable clarinet and the latter's lithe guitar. "Obayoko begins with Garzone blowing a melodic head very much like Wayne Shorter's "Fall, before Mela intones a Santeria prayer that introduces the piece. Then it moves between rubato rhythms reminiscent of Elvin Jones and a traditional Afro-Cuban clave, Slavov laying down an unfaltering beat over which Garzone and Genovese stretch out expansively.

Ornette Coleman's "Law Years features the trio of Loueke, Slavov and Mela harmolodically weaving melody, harmony and rhythms around each other in the spirit of the composer. The closing "Parallel World presents a vigorous dialogue between Lovano and Mela highlighting the leader's subtle, shifting rhythmic patterns, which are abundantly evident throughout the date, thanks to the technically superb quality of the recording.

Track Listing: John Ramsay; Sorpresa; Arere; Parasuayo; Galaxy; Chela; Obayoko (Intro); Obayoko; Law Years; Parallel World.

Personnel: Francisco Mela: drums, percussion, vocals; Anat Cohen: tenor sax, clarinet; George Garzone; tenor sax; Joe Lovano: tenor sax; Leo Genovese: piano, keyboards, Fender Rhodes; Lionel Loueke: guitar; Nir Felder: guitar; Peter Slavov: bass.

Record Label: Ayva Musica

Style: Latin/World


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