Manuel Valera: Forma Nueva (2004)
The set exemplifies how changing one player can radically affect the outcome. While bassist John Patitucci is a constant throughout the session, the drum chair is shared by Bill Stewart and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. Stewart’s more subtle polyrhythmic approach lends a certain post bop authenticity to the tunes he is on, most notably the driving “Metaphorically Speaking,” which also features a strong contribution by saxophonist Seamus Blake, a musician whose reputation within the musical community is, sadly, stronger than that without.
Hernandez is a more muscular player with a deeper root in Afro-Cuban styles, and so his work on the more ethnic “Forma Nueva” and “En Cinco,” which is a 5/4 romp based in some part on Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” is appropriate. But he is a broad enough player to handle more straight-ahead material with great confidence, as in the complex “Displaced,” which manages to incorporate a Guaganco rhythm in the blowing section with a 10/4 theme and features another intense solo from Blake.
While Blake’s appearance on four of the album’s twelve tracks provides some textural diversity, the majority of the record is a feature for Valera in a trio setting. He is a deeply thematic player, often building longer lines from small motifs. But as much as Forma Nueva is a vehicle for his playing, it is also a showcase for his fine writing. What is remarkable, these days, is how mature and well-formed some of the younger players are when they come out of the gate, and Valera is no exception. While he has a strong résumé with artists including Paquito D’Rivera, Steve Turre and Bobby Sanabria, he is only now emerging as a solo artist, and already he is displaying unique performance and compositional voices. There is a strong lyricism in his playing, and while his themes can be extended and a little complicated, they are eminently hummable.
While there are many young pianists out there forging their way, Valera’s personal incorporation of Cuban and other ethnic Latin styles into a contemporary post bop context assures him a distinguished place. Forma Nueva is a strong first effort from an artist who will, no doubt, be heard from again.
Track Listing: Metaphorically Speaking; Forma Nueva; Simplicity; Displaced; Drume Negrita; Prey to Indulgence; Abue; Nebulism; Say It (Over and Over Again); En Cinco; Como NG; Things Aren't What They Seem
Personnel: Manuel Valera (piano), John Patitucci (bass), Horacio