Cuban drummers relocating to the US over the years have made a remarkable contribution to jazz on these shores, and Francisco Mela is the newest talent to add to that list. Melao is a striking tour de force for the young drummer/composer, who transplanted himself from Havana to Boston a decade ago. Mela has wisely surrounded himself with some of Boston's brightest young talents, not to mention a generous and gorgeous cameo by Joe Lovano on several tunes.
The curious listener would be well advised to skip ahead to track five, "Galaxy," perhaps the most daring of the uniformly excellent nine original pieces composed by Mela. A blazing interchange between saxophonists Lovano and George Garzone is the main attraction that brings the composition into cohesion, but repeated listenings reveal just how sophisticated and engaging Mela's rhythmic patterns are as he urgently pushes the horns to stretch to the max. He's an rousingly busy drummer, tracing his style back to Roy Haynes, though I also hear Tony Williams in terms of a airy and deft quickness in responding to the saxophones. It would require only a slight play of imagination to hear this tune as a selection on a "Tribute to Miles" disc, with Garzone lovingly evoking Wayne Shorter, and Mela dancing over every square inch of his drum kit with the teenager's enthusiasm that Williams never seemed to lose with age.
The rest of the album? A fascinating mix of colors pop up. A few measures of Afro-Cuban chanting, some darkly atmospheric electronic storms contributed by the very edgy and versatile electric guitarist Nir Felder. A cover of Ornette Coleman's "Law Years" does justice to Ornette's endearing agitations.
In some ways, to create a just comparison, I think Mela is just as striking a new talent as drummer/composer Dafnis Prieto, and both artists successfully pursue a freedom to weave their Cuban musical backgrounds into global tapestries that can be called "free Latin music." And in Mela's case, accent the word "free." "Free" in the context of this passionately realized project means "disciplined imagination."
Track Listing: John Ramsey; Sopresa; Arere; Parasuayo; Galaxy; Chela; Obayoko (Intro); Obayoko; Law Years;
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.