Francisco Mela: Ancestros

Karl Ackermann BY

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Francisco Mela: Ancestros
One of the many fine musicians coming out of Cuba, Francisco Mela is an accomplished drummer/percussionist and composer. On Ancestros, his debut on the vinyl-only subscription label Newvelle, he has contributed seven original compositions to a collection that includes covers from Andrew Hill and Paul Motian. The album name—and its title track—are appropriated from Mela's prior release Fe (Self-produced, 2016). On two of Mela's previous releases, Melao (Ayva Musica, 2006) and Tree of Life (Half Note, 2011), progressive jazz shares the program with solid Latin influences. That is less the case with Ancestros where Mela takes a broadminded, free-wheeling approach.

Mela arrived in Boston in 2001 to attend Berklee College of Music, where he later taught. He has worked with many notable artists including Joe Lovano, John Scofield, JoAnne Brackeen, Kenny Barron, McCoy Tyner and Lionel Loueke. Pianist Kris Davis and reed player Hery Paz are both part of Mela's working quartet and sextet and they are joined here by bassist Gerald Cannon. Pundits have been hoisting Davis' star for half a decade while she has quietly earned respect and admiration among the best of her peers in creative music. Among the those she has worked with are John Zorn, Craig Taborn, Don Byron, Tyshawn Sorey, Michael Formanek, Tony Malaby, Ingrid Laubrock, Mary Halvorson and Tom Rainey. Ancestros is her twentieth recording and follows Octopus (Pyroclastic Records, 2018), her duo outing Craig Taborn.

Paz, another Cuban émigré, now residing in New York, studied saxophone at New England Conservatory. Along with his role in Mela's groups, the multi-instrumentalist has recorded with the Willy Rodriguez Quintet. Cannon, a Wisconsin native, met Milt Hinton while attending the University of Wisconsin. Hinton's impact triggered a life change for the bassist that sent him off to the state's conservatory to study music. The accomplished bassist also studied piano and is a gifted painter as well. Cannon has worked with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Dexter Gordon, Cedar Walton, Billy Higgins, Hamiet Bluiett and many other jazz luminaries.

Ancestros suggests a line of succession, and Mela, by proxy, casts a wide net in exploring musical lineages. To be sure, there are plenty of mystifying constructs such as the title track, "Vino" and "Ornette," the latter of the three featuring Davis and Paz engaged in a complex dialogue, often at fever pitch. Darkness dangles over "Black Movie" and Motian's "Mumbo Jumbo" where Paz's bass clarinet creates an ominous setting; Mela, making the most of his slight, frequently soft, signals. Andrew Hill's "Not So" is one of the more overtly melodic pieces on the album, but it is not without a distinct quirkiness. Side B opens and closes with contrasting versions of Mela's "It's Good to be Free"; the first approaches anarchy as it develops, the second plays out like a haunted lullaby.

Ancestros is steeped in imaginative communications that begin with silhouettes and ultimately take on a distinct form before disintegrating. The playing is highly expressive; extending phrases or collapsing them, without lavish embellishments but often with raw energy. There are stunning performances from Davis and Paz, and Mela is a master of nuance and flexibility, regardless of the style the group is engaged in. Ancestros is the most eclectic Newvelle release to date and one of the most interesting.

Track Listing

Side A: Black Movie; Duende; Vino; Ornette; Side B: It’s Good to be Free; Not So; Mumbo Jumbo; Ancestros; It’s Good to be Free.


Francisco Mela: drums; Hery Paz: saxophone, bass clarinet; Kris Davis: piano; Gerald Cannon: bass.

Album information

Title: Ancestros | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Newvelle Records

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