Manuel Valera And The New Cuban Express – In Motion – Criss Cross Jazz 1372, 63:21 ****:
(Manuel Valera – piano,fender rhodes; Yosvany Terry – alto & soprano saxophone,chekeré; Tom Guarna – guitar; Alex Sipiagin – trumpet, flugelhorn; Hans Glawischnig – bass; Ludwig Afonso – drums; Mauricio Herrera – percussion)
The recent opening of a more fulsome relationship between the United States and Cuba could not have come at a better time for the next generation of Cuban musicians as exemplified by pianist Manuel Valera. Fronting his band New Cuban Express on this album entitled In Motion he delivers an energetic performance based almost entirely on his original Afro-Cuban compositions.
The definition of descarga is a jam session that everyone can dance to, and thus on the opening track “Descargando” the band fulfills the definition with class. The diverting ruckus that the group exhibits coupled with some strong playing from Valera and trumpeter Sipiagin offer a smart exposition of the composition. On the soulful “No Puedo Ser Feliz” which means I Can’t Be Happy Yosvany Terry takes his soprano saxophone to deliver a melodic exploration of the theme, which is strongly supported by Valera’s crisp piano.
“Storyteller” is an engaging but musically complex piece, as it involves the bass and drums playing in four and other parts of the band playing in three to deliver a harmonically elastic sound with trumpeter Sipiagin heard over the band. “Para Emiliano” means For Emiliano and was written for the late Cuban pianist Emiliano Salvador. In this rendition Valera is on Fender Rhodes which gives the tune an ethereal texture over a subtle rhythm. Adding to the lyrical approach, trumpeter Sipiagin and soprano saxophonist Terry exchange phrases that are filled with unhurried spontaneity. Closing the session is “Factors” with Alex Sipiagin showing his sparkling technique with some exciting upper register playing. Valera does not disappoint as he demonstrates he is a pianist who takes as logical approach to his note playing. The tune ends with Herrera’s congas coming on strongly.
All the delightful elements of Afro-Cuban jazz are on full display with this assertive offering from a stellar band.
TrackList: Descargando; Preamble; Bantu; No Puedo Ser Feliz; Storyteller; Mirrors; Para Emiliano; NYC; Factors