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Pianist Manuel Valera reminds me of the popularity Sonny Rollins had among music critics at the beginning of his career. Like Valera, the saxophonist entered the jazz scene fully developed. Valera, however, might take issue with such an observation, although his own productions to date would argue against him in that regard. Of those, Forma Nueva, from late last year, is the first. Valera is joined by bassist John Patitucci, drummers Horacio "El Negro Hernández and Bill Stewart, and saxophonist Seamus Blake in a noteworthy production.
The accessible title cut features infrequent characteristics of Patitucci's bass playing, as well as representative ones from Hernández on drums sans Blake, who unfortunately plays on only four numbers. The drummer does his best work when freed from time strictures and set upon challengingly open musical structures, as he was, for instance, with Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Although working mostly on 2-3 clave, he operates with ample latitude of trouble-free freedom while keeping dynamic and supple time amidst his virtuosic ambidextrousness.
Patitucci's proven Latin music chops, on the other hand, aren't heard enough in the market. Here, however, he takes a sizably nasty brief initial solo featuring distinctively deep Afro-Cuban percussive inklings, a wide sonic range, virginal tightness, and a deliciously broad taste. Of course, he pulls the same type of polygonal, street, fat- sounding erudition throughout the rest of the production. Valera on piano, like Hernández on drums, sounds as if a multi-armed Hindu god or goddess were playing. Indeed, here and elsewhere, he's simply divine!
"Prey to Indulgence and "Displaced are examples of Valera's capacity for denser composing. On the former, he creates an engrossing rhythmic jazz overlay while working with a whiff of the rare proto-son musical genre from Eastern Cubaalthough you have to dig deep to hear or sense itwhile Blake does the same with classical and jazz influences. Valera, Blake, and Stewart shine brilliantly in their respective solos.
Track Listing: 1. Metaphorically Speaking (M. Valera) 2. Forma Nueva (M. Valera) 3. Simplicity (M. Valera) 4. Displaced (M. Valera) 5. Drume Negrita (E. Negret) 6. Prey to Indulgence (M. Valera) 7. Abue (M. Valera) 8. Nebulism (M. Valera/M. Stahlhut) 9. Say It (Over and Over Again) (J. McHugh) 10. En Cinco (M. Valera) 11. Como NG (M. Valera) 12. Things Aren't What They Seem (M. Valera)
Personnel: Bass: John Patitucci. Drums: Horacio ďEl NegroĒ HernŠndez (2,4,5,7,10,11) & Bill Stewart (1,3,6,8,9,12). Piano: Manuel Valera. Sax: Seamus Blake.