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Manuel Valera & New Cuban Express: Expectativas

Edward Blanco By

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A follow up to pianist Manuel Valera's 2013 Grammy—nominated New Cuban Express, his seventh album as leader, Expectativas continues the melding of Afro-Cuban rhythms with the modern fusion jazz sound fusing the two into a new form of jazz best described as "modern Latin fusion." Consisting of eleven originals and one cover, the project is a testament to Valera's compositional talents and his vision for the future Latin Jazz. As such, the approach is not all Latin-tinged as evidenced by the hard- core modern jazz statements found on such pieces as in the title track, "Chennai Express (For S.A.M.)" and on "Open Window."

The Latin flair however, is quite obvious and present right from the opening percussive "Chamber Timba" featuring Mauricio Herrera on percussion, Ludwig Afonso on drums and Yosvany Terry on alto saxophone. The original "Isabelita" seems to merge the modern side of jazz with strong percussive Latin rhythms in an almost natural fit resulting in an engaging piece of music featuring the pianist, Terry on soprano as well as Paulo Stagnaro on percussion and Tom Guarna on electric guitar. Guarna and John Benitez on electric bass take the center on the original "Jben Timbus (For John Benitez)" featuring strong guitar riffs and solid, dare I say it, electrifying bass lines.

The only cover of the album, "La Gloria Eres Tu" contains a very special feature for the pianist and that is the guest appearance from dad Manuel Valera Sr. providing the defining alto saxophone solo of the disc leading to the best Latin jazz combo statement of the session. The music continues its modern Latin charge on the blistering "En Cinco" where Terry and Valera deliver expressive solos on perhaps the most ambitious composition of the album.

Valera's New Cuban Express septet winds down a sparkling session of exploratory jazz with the heavy Latin beats of "Descarga Para Frank Emilio" and the brief, but beautifully soft-textured "Las Americas." There's no question that Manuel Valera's Expectativas produces a unique and innovative sound sure to capture the attention of the most discerning jazz aficionado but, what may be surprising is, just how well this new musical experience will resonate with audiences everywhere.

Track Listing: Chamber Timba; Expectativas; Perception; Chennai Express (For S.A.M.); Intro To Isabelita; Isabelita; Jben Timbus (For John Benitez); La Gloria Eres Tu; En Cinco; Open Window; Descarga Para Frank Emilio; Las Americas.

Personnel: Manuel Valera: piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer; Yosvany Terry: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, Chekere; Tom Guarna: electric guitar, acoustic guitar; John Benitez: electric bass; Ludwig Afanso: drums; Paulo Stagnaro: percussion; Mauricio Herrera: percussion (1), Batas (6); Manuel Valera Sr.: alto saxophone (8).

Title: Expectativas | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Mavo Records

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