Five albums in less than two years, including four as
a leader? Unheard of. But pianist Manuel Valera has done it.
In late 2013, with his band, New Cuban Express, Valera released
Exectativas. In early 2014, he released Self Portrait, a
solo piano effort. Later in the year, he joined his father, Manuel
Valera Sr., for Recuerdos. And again in 2014, with New Cuban
Express, he released In Motion.
Valera is clearly a musician who loves to play, and
he loves to share what he’s playing. The Manuel Valera Trio now releases
Live at Firehouse 12 (Mavo Records, 2015). With Valera are
bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer EJ Strickland.
“Wayne,” a tribute to Wayne Shorter, is one of the first compositions
written by Valera. Accented by timely cymbal splashes,Valera plays with
a warm-hearted fondness for both the music and the honoree. After
delighting the audience for a few minutes, Valera steps back so
Glawishnig can stretch out a moment. The leader then takes point for the
remainder of the song. Shorter would be pleased.
Next, the trio takes on Shorter’s classic, “Footprints.” The song begins
with unrestrained improvisation. Eventually, the trio gets to the
familiar melody, but even there Valera pushes boundaries, maintaining
just enough of the theme to make it recognizable. The rest is Valera
basically saying, “Let’s go,” and the trio takes off on a new adventure.
During one sequence, each player carries equal weight. Valera plays a
phrase repeatedly with variations in how he plays it, while Glawischnig
does his thing on the bass, and Strickland tears it up on the drums.
“En Route,” one of Valera’s recent compositions, has a driving mood. The
trio is going somewhere, but faces a few challenges with traffic and
detours. Their creative interplay helps them navigate these obstacles.
The piano gets intense about halfway through. Strickland takes a turn at
the wheel during one of the rougher stretches of the trip. The entire
kit gets a workout. The musicians eventually reach their destination
after a satisfying ride.
Based in New York City, Grammy-nominated Valera was born in Havana,
Cuba. He has performed or recorded with such luminaries as Arturo
Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Dafnis Prieto, Jeff “Tain” Watts, John
Benitez, Joel Frahm and others. His band New Cuban Express is influenced
by the music of Cuban artists from the 1970s and ’80s.
Live at Firehouse 12 was recorded in October of 2014 at the
Firehouse 12, a club in New Haven, Connecticut, known for showcasing
cutting-edge jazz. It’s Valera’s 10th album as a leader, and his first