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Manuel Valera Trio: Live at Firehouse 12

C. Michael Bailey By

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Cuban pianist Manuel Valera readily extends the jazz language of his predecessors Bebo and Chucho Valdes. He is comfortable leading all band formats from septets (In Motion (Criss Cross, 2014) to solo performance (Self Portrait (Self Produced, 2014). Valera may presently be found fronting an exceptional trio performing Live at Firehouse 12.

Orchestral or symphonic best describes Valera's pianism. His command of the complete keyboard; his ability to effect emotive arrangements with cogent beginnings, middles, and ends; and his sensitive composing announce him as a bright and authoritative presence in jazz: not just Latin jazz but in all jazz. His choice of playing partners in bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer EJ Strickland cements this image into vivid reality.

In six originals and two "standards," Valera lays out his entire musical vision: on of precision and accuracy, thoughtfulness and grace. His flair for the dramatic is evidenced in the opening original, "Spiral, where Valera evolves from an impressionistic reverie to a single note propulsion of power and momentum pushed even further by the driving drumming of Strickland. Valera is all melody, block chords, filling in every aural space available to him.

Glawischnig is hard middle on the beat, keeping things crisp and moving along. The lengthy piece features Valera's most far- reaching solo in the recital. He begins quietly, probing the piece's harmonic soft spots frequently accented by Strickland's precise stimulation. Glawischnig is given ample solo space that is brought back into orchestra with Valera's relentless left hand making "Spiral" a completed drama.

The two standards are outstanding. Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" provides Valera the melodic inspiration to find higher intervals of harmony while he investigates the ticklish portions of the piece. Valera draws every bit of pathos from the piece. His real triumph on the recording is his treatment of the "Intermezzo Sinfonico" from Mascagni's opera Cavalleria Rusticana. So perfect does the trio interact empathically that one wishes the playing go on and on.

Track Listing: Spiral; Wayne; Footprints; Distancia; En Route; Intermesso Sinfonico from Cavalleria Rusticana; Lirico; Century.

Personnel: Manuel Valera: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; EJ Strickland: drums.

Title: Live at Firehouse 12 | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Mavo Records

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