Leader of the Latin jazz-styled group New Cuban Express, New York-based, Cuban-born pianist Manuel Valera, unveils his 10th album as leader and his first recording in a live setting with the untypically non-Latin Live at Firehouse 12
, his first trio format release in six years. This, very excellent trio features jazz luminaries Hans Glawischnig
on bass and veteran EJ Strickland
on the drumsall together forming one solid power threesome. Recorded at the renowned New Haven, CT club, Firehouse 12, a venue famous for showcasing the best in jazz performances and this project, proved to be no different producing an exceptional evening in the best tradition modern jazz.
A self-produced endeavor, Valera includes six engaging originals and fresh new arrangements of the Wayne Shorter
classic, "Footprints," and the rare "Intermezzo Sinfonico" from Pietro Mascagni's one-act Italian opera Cavalleria Rustanica. This classically-tinged piece moves along slow gracefully sliding though warm piano chords in a humbly relaxing ballad. The music begins in grand fashion with the recently composed composition "Spiral," the most ambitious piece of the recording comprising more than twelve-minutes of the modern jazz sound.
It's quite obvious that the pianist has an affinity for the music from legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter, having included a tune from his songbook, but the original "Wayne"in obvious tribute to the iconhappens to be one of Valera's very first compositions and here, the trio gives this homage piece new life featuring sparkling solos from the pianist and bassist alike. The beautiful light-textured "Distancia" which, featuring some of the pianist's best mellow moments, is a memorable tune for the leader, evoking memories of family while away for seven weeks in India where the piece was composed.
The original "En Route," breaks the mold from the main theme of the recording and changes direction to a more brisk post-bop nature in perhaps the liveliest tune of the disc where the trio picks up the tempo in a decidedly hard-driving message giving Valera the opportunity to express his formidable right-hand chops while Strickland, also pounds the drums into submission on this one. The classically-styled "Lirico," and the other hard-driving piece "Century," close out one exciting date of incredible music by one of the most refined trios in the business. Live at Firehouse 12
captures an evening of invigorating modern jazz delivered by a world-class trio led by pianist Manuel Valera, a virtuoso on the instrument and one of today's most exciting talents on the jazz landscape.