Cuban cam­ou­flage

Pi­anist Manuel Valera

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

egin­ning in 2004 with Forma Nueva, Ha­vana-born Manuel Valera’s sleek de­but record­ing with a trio in­clud­ing bassist John Pat­ti­tucci and, on some cuts, sax­o­phon­ist Sea­mus Blake, no two of the key­boardist’s dozen record­ings have been alike. On ob­scure and less-ob­scure la­bels, Valera has led quar­tets, quin­tets, en­sem­bles rip­pling with per­cus­sion, and those dressed out with wood­winds or strings or both. When he ap­pears Wed­nes­day, Oct. 18, at Gig Per­for­mance Space, he’ll be lead­ing his trio, a setup that brings the am­bi­tious com­poser’s work into sharp fo­cus. In big groups or small, whether meld­ing post­bop jazz with Afro-Cuban rhythms, reach­ing into Euro­pean clas­si­cal mu­sic, the avant-garde, or some amal­gam of his own mak­ing that’s dif­fi­cult to la­bel, there’s one con­stant found in his evolv­ing sound. “I’ve never done away with my Cuban mu­si­cal her­itage. It’s re­ally hard to avoid so I don’t try to. Even the com­po­si­tions that may not sound Cuban, if we sat down and I ex­plained it, if I showed the har­mon­ics, the cam­ou­flage, they’d hear it.” A story from Valera’s days as pi­anist for Paquito D’Rivera, a sax­o­phon­ist known to in­ject clas­si­cal and other in­flu­ences into Latin jazz, con­firms it. Af­ter hear­ing Valera play some of his new com­po­si­tions, Rivera re­marked that there was one thing to be found in all his work: the clave, a rhythm com­mon to the en­tirety of Latin jazz. “It’s al­ways there,” Valera ad­mit­ted, “in my com­pos­ing, in my im­pro­vis­ing; ev­ery­thing.”

Valera’s early mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ences were a mix of Cuban, Amer­i­can, and Euro­pean sounds. “Jazz and Cuban mu­sic came to me at the same time but through dif­fer­ent chan­nels,” he said. His fa­ther, Manuel Valera Sr., was a sax­o­phon­ist who toured with var­i­ous Cuban bands. “But in the house, he didn’t re­ally em­brace Cuban mu­sic,” Valera said. “We al­ways lis­tened to jazz: Chet Baker, Can­non­ball Ad­der­ley, Bill Evans, Miles Davis. Out in the streets, I heard folk­loric, timba, bands like [pop-Cuban hy­brid en­sem­ble] Los Van Van.” He also had for­mal mu­sic train­ing, en­ter­ing Ha­vana’s his­toric Manuel Saumell Mu­sic Con­ser­va­tory, an in­sti­tu­tion that pro­duced in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized pi­anists Gon­zalo Rubal­caba and Chu­cho Valdes. Valera was nine when he be­gan his stud­ies and, like his fa­ther, was a sax­o­phon­ist, though he some­times sat in on piano in bands with his fa­ther.

Valera landed in the U.S. when he was four­teen. He turned fully to the piano, em­brac­ing the in­stru­ment’s har­monic po­ten­tial. He spent a year liv­ing with his fa­ther in New York City at the age of fifteen. You might think that the in­fec­tious mu­sic scene there would have clinched his destiny. But when that year was up, Valera left for Flor­ida not know­ing if he wanted to be a mu­si­cian or not. “I hadn’t de­vel­oped a taste for prac­tice or for get­ting into the mu­sic,” he said. In Flor­ida, he dealt with his lone­li­ness by go­ing to the pub­lic li­brary and check­ing out record­ings from trum­peter Clifford Brown, pi­anist Keith Jar­rett, and oth­ers. In 1998, he en­rolled in Flor­ida State Univer­sity in Tal­la­has­see. “That was a great co­coon for me. I was one of the few jazz pi­anists there and the prac­tice rooms were open 24 hours a day. So I prac­ticed a lot, five or six hours a day. At night, I could play with dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent bands.” He was ac­cepted to New York City’s The New School in 2000 and soon picked up a gig with Latin jazz per­cus­sion­ist Bobby Sanabria.

Valera’s rep­u­ta­tion as an ad­ven­tur­ous Afro-Cuban pi­anist spread, and soon he was work­ing with drum­mer Daf­nis Prieto (with whom he’s recorded three al­bums), D’Rivera, trum­peter Ar­turo San­doval, and drum­mers Lenny White and Jeff “Tain” Watts, among oth­ers. “I was twenty-two, and this all seemed

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.