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Manuel Valera: Self Portrait

Dan McClenaghan By

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On Self Portrait, Grammy-nominated pianist Manuel Valera's first solo piano outing, the artist displays a supple and exquisite touch on his instrument, reflecting the erudition and precision of his classical background. This is worth saying right off because Valera is best known for his vivacious Latin jazz ensemble outings, New Cuban Express (Mavo Records, 2012) and Expectivas (Mavo Records, 2013).

On this introspective set, Valera explores his classical influences with nods to Eric Satie, George Gershwin and Nicoloas Slonimsky on three separate "Impromptus." He reexamines some of his piano jazz heroes with a gorgeous take on Bill Evans' "Very Early," a sparkling version of Bud Powell's "Hallucination," and—sounding as if he's having the best of times—a gleaming workout on Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now."

For those familiar with Valera's New Cuban Express band, it will be no surprise that the pianist can play con alma, with soul, and he includes two tunes drawn from his Cuban roots, the tender-hearted boleros "Solamente Una Vez" and "Las Perlas De Tu Boca," along with a different kind of soul on the set's closer, a deep blues soul on his original "Blues."

Self Portrait's fourth Valera original, "Spiral," is a swirling opening for the disc—a lovely, searching, lighter-than-air tune to introduce a stellar and multi-faceted solo piano of Manuel Valera.

Track Listing: Spiral; Very Early; Solamente Una Vez; Impromptu No. 1 For George Gershwin); Hallucinations; Water; Impromptu No. 2 For Erik Satie; Ask Me Now; Las PerlasDe Tu Boca; Improvisation; Hope; Impromptu No. 3 For Nicolas Slonimsky; Blues.

Personnel: Manuel Valera: piano.

Title: Self Portrait | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Mavo Records

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