Cuban keyboardist and composer Manuel Valera presented last with a scorching trio set Live at Firehouse 12 (Mayo Records, 2015). Acoustic and organic, Valera demonstrated is bona fides with mainstream jazz performance. Bringing drummer E.J. Strickland from that and earlier bands, Valera moves into a new project with a new band, Groove Square. He adds the ubiquitous bassist John Benitez to the mix making for a solid rhythm section for Valera to compose and perform over. Decidedly adult contemporary, Urban Landscape is exactly what it purports to be: an urban vision full of funk, groove, and habanera.
The ballad "Gliding," presents an air, ethereal terrain where Valera can share his expansive command of the Fender Rhodes. Featured prominently is Gregoire Maret playing that Latin-tinged harmonica that has become so popular in recent years. Maret and saxophonist John Ellis combine with guitarist Nir Felder to navigate Valera's beautiful but complex composition. Over a simple harmonic base, an involved melody presents and moves with the momentum of slow traffic in the evening. Calm pervades the piece giving it a drowsy feel. This type of jazz, this type of music, is the most difficult to play...slow tempo with involved melody. Valera's not afraid. Oh, no he is not.
Personnel: Manuel Valera: keyboards; John Ellis: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet;
Nir Felder: guitar; John Benitez: bass; E.J. Strickland: drums;
Gregoire Maret: harmonica.
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