Francisco Mela – Ancestros – Newvelle Records NV017LP – 180 gm audiophile vinyl – ****
(Francisco Mela – drums; Henry Paz – saxophone, bass clarinet – Kris Davis – piano; Gerald Cannon – bass)
For the fifth issue from their third year of audiophile vinyl releases (issued bi-monthly), Newvelle Records has Cuban drummer, Francisco Mela, with a quartet. Mela has saxophonist/ bass clarinetist, Henry Paz; pianist, Kris Davis; and bassist, Gerald Cannon, along to help with his vision. Mela brings the strong influence of his native Cuban rhythms, combined with world music, in a creative jazz setting.
Paz’ bass clarinet provides a moody, mysterious vibe, that at times is dark and foreboding, but can turn joyful during the same track. Kris Davis is an intuitive pianist, and has a keen sense of reacting to Mela’s shape shifting. Gerald Cannon has been a partner with Francisco in McCoy Tyner’s most current trio, so their communication is instantaneous.
On Ancestros, Mela provides all the compositions with the exception of Andrew Hill’s “Not So,” and Paul Motian’s “Mumbo Jumbo.” Side A begins with “Black Music,” and it is immediate that each band member is in sync with Mela’s theme. There is a feel of a ripple in a stream, slowly spreading out, with Mela’s cymbals providing the commentary. Paz’ bass clarinet provides the mystery, and Kris Davis is spot-on as a guide. On “Duende,” Davis’ Monkish lines lay down a path that increases in intensity, and its journey ends with a riff that takes the tune out.
“Ornette” is both open, yet approachable. Kris holds the jazz theme together, darting in and out, like a sly boxer. Henry’s sax provides some edgy blues, and a Caribbean-type lilt is present as well.
Side B starts with “It’s Good to Be Free.” It combines both the abstract, and in-the- groove lines. Beginning with low register piano notes, its noir-ish theme brings on a murder mystery analogy. The bass clarinet helps the tension reach a climax. Next is Andrew Hills’ “Not So,” and it’s a welcome straight ahead swinger. You can feel the vibration of Gerald Cannon’s bass notes, a testament to the recording talents of Marc Urselli. Once again Newvelle succeeds in releasing pristine acoustics on its striking clear vinyl.
“Mumbo Jumbo” from Paul Motian provides a vehicle for Mela’s drum prowess, in full display on an extended solo. It’s a feature as well for all the quartet to shine, and Henry’s solo is a wake-up call to arms. Paz is again distinctive on the title track, where his Chinese horn (suono) brings to mind a Middle Eastern call to prayer. It has a snake charmer’s hypnotism. Davis has an initial, tentative “test the waters” piano intro, before the bass clarinet widens the palette, and the tune goes wide into abstract territory, completely free before returning to the theme. “It’s Free to Be Good” ( a mate to the Side B opener?), has more foreboding bass clarinet, leading to a very pretty solo by Paz, and ending with a hopeful refrain.
Listening to Mela’s quartet will keep a listener on their toes, with its intense energy. Its addition to Season Three of Newvelle’s series of audiophile vinyl, housed in gorgeous gate-fold, with archival art covers, continues the Newvelle tradition of presenting innovative artists free rein to express their musical talents.
It’s Good to Be Free
It’s Free to Be Good
Link to more information at Newvelle Records here.