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Francisco Mela: Melao

Jim Santella By

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Working with an all-star group of artists in a variety of settings, drummer Francisco Mela drives with the spirit of Cuban fire behind him. Born in Cuba and resident in Boston, the thirty-something percussionist has created a fine keepsake for his first recording as leader. Nine originals and one Ornette Coleman tune feature different guitar and saxophone voices as the drummer propels his rhythm section along a spontaneous path.

Joe Lovano romps joyfully on three of Mela's compositions, demonstrating the versatility that both artists rely on for their continued creative pleasures. With a quartet, they drive "Arere along a straight-ahead path that fosters tradition. Their duo performance on "Parallel World steps aside to look at jazz from a different perspective: the two artists collaborate and converse within a free jazz ambience. Both have plenty to say; they communicate in a language that we can all understand intuitively. With tenor saxophonist George Garzone, plus piano and bass, Mela and Lovano take a look at impressionism through their interpretation of "Galaxy, which colors the universe with a meteor shower of hard bop pellets. Like the forces in deep space, everyone drives with power and consistency.

Garzone is featured on several other selections, where he and Mela mix it up eloquently. The scene changes from hot and heavy to light and dreamy and then back again. Nothing is predictable, and that's a good thing. Mela's program offers plenty to think about, and yet it's still within the bounds of mainstream jazz. Tradition and contemporary features are both served fully.

Anat Cohen and Lionel Loueke lend their support to two selections, helping Mela create some of the program's more lyrical moments. Her silky clarinet and his vibrant guitar give "Chela a lovely texture that comes from timeless sources. Later, in a trio format, Loueke teams with bassist Peter Slavov and Mela for an effusive romp through "Law Years.

With his debut recording as leader, Francisco Mela provides the spontaneity that we need in order to keep jazz's mainstream healthy and accessible.

Track Listing: John Ramsey; Sopresa; Arere; Parasuayo; Galaxy; Chela; Obayoko (Intro); Obayoko; Law Years; Parallel Worlds.

Personnel: Francisco Mela: drums, vocals, percussion; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone; George Garzone: tenor saxophone; Anat Cohen: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lionel Loueke: guiktar; Nir Felder: electric guitar & effects; Leo Genovese: piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboard; Peter Slavov: bass.

Title: Melao | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Ayva Musica

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