The Vermont Jazz Center will present Cuban pianist/composer Manuel Valera in concert with the New Cuban Express Quintet (NCE) on Saturday, November 16th at 8:00 PM. This international band is touring in support of a new, highly acclaimed recording, Expectativas, their second Grammy nominated disc in two years. Valera (Cuba) is on piano and keyboards, Joel Frahm (USA), saxophone, John Benitez (Puerto Rico), bass, Ludwig Alfonso (Cuba), drums and Mauricio Herrera (Cuba), percussion.
Although Manuel is barely in his mid-thirties, he's recorded seven highly regarded CDs as a leader and as a sideman has served with some of the music's most advanced and demanding luminaries. He appeared as pianist when drummer Dafnis Prieto performed at the Vermont Jazz Center in March of 2009. He has also recorded with Prieto, Paquito D'Rivera, Brian Lynch, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chucho Valdés, Samuel Torres and many others.He leaves no doubt that he's destined to play a role in the future of jazz. Valera shows a keen jazz vocabulary, a gift for creating grooves that invite stellar solo flights from his collaborators and the nerve to romance a melody when it suits him. -- Billboard Magazine
One exciting thing about Manuel is his beautiful writing. He says many of his tunes originated as an exercise to fit a particular concept he's working on like overlapping rhythms or revolving chord changes on top of a pedal point. He is a master of the "slow build" and employing motivic development, plus his use of color and melody are exquisite. He has been copiously cited as having been "influenced by Bill Evans," this is apparent in his elegant touch and use of sophisticated harmonies, but it is his Caribbean roots that unify the breadth of his composing. Valera's own descriptions of much of his work include reference to the rhythms upon which they are based. This is a particularly Latin approach: take a rhythm and then superimpose personalized melodies and harmonies to the point where the rhythm is like camouflaged glue. Valera uses this approach on virtually every composition on NCE, his strong melodies and complex harmonic progressions whirl over distinct, tricky rhythms that serve to lock in the melodies and create inevitable structure. There's a dichotomy going on in Valera's music: the compositions are danceable but that dance-like, primitive percussive aspect serves as the foundation to a contrasting sophisticated melodic and harmonic journey.
Valera's group concept is now manifest in its second recording in two years; each one has been nominated for a Latin Grammy. The name of the ensemble is New Cuban Express. Valera states: "I decided to form a group that would focus on exploring Cuban music but not so much in the conventional "Latin Jazz" sense. I wanted to mix not only elements of jazz, but also R&B, fusion and funk with Cuban music styles...the inspiration for this music came mostly from groups from Cuba: AfroCuba, Irakere, Los Van Van and Cuban pianist Emiliano Salvador." Valera's music has served as a stepping stone to many of his North American listeners, educating them about the evolution of Timba (the name of the style originated by those groups) and turning them on to its progenitors. Still, Manuel's music is quite different from the Cuban ensembles he references. He is more versed in jazz and therefore stretches the improvisational vocabulary; Valera's writing includes the rhythmical pulse of Cuba, but pushes the envelope by marrying it to his own personal jazz influences like Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and Miles Davis.
Manuel Valera's New Cuban Express includes saxophonist Joel Frahm (who appeared at the VJC many years ago with Matt Wilson), who has worked with Brad Mehldau, Jane Monheit, Maynard Ferguson, Betty Carter, Matt Wilson, Larry Goldings, Dewey Redman, Lee Konitz, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Andrew Hill, Ben Allison, Pat Martino, Ingrid Jensen, Dena Derose, The Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Kyle Eastwood and many others. The bassist is Grammy award-winner, John Benitez who has performed with Batacumbele, Joe Madrid, Wynton Marsalis, Tito Puente, Lalo Rodriguez, Hilton Ruiz, Dave Samuels, Chucho Valdez and Bobby Watson. Benitez has also recorded with numerous performers such as David Sanchez, Eddie Palmieri and Roy Hargrove's Grammy award-winning Crisol Band.
Ludwig Alfonso will be playing drums. He has performed with Maria Schneider, Bob Berg, Ira Sullivan, Nestor Torres and Othello Mollineux and appeared on four Grammy Nominated CDs with Spyro Gyra, Hector Martignon, Sammy Figueroa and Manuel Valera. Alfonso has also performed with Giovanni Hidalgo, Joshua Redman, Dave Valentin, Pedrito Martinez, Mark Murphy, Eldar Djangirov and many others. The group's percussionist is Mauricio Herrera who performs with Son de Madre, Yerba Buena, Lila Downs, Hector Martignon, the John Benitez project, Yosvany Terry, Afro-Cuban Roots, Alfredo de la Fe, Osmany Paredes, Oriente Lopez Group, Lew Soloff, Grupo Ibboru, Bryan Lynch, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Obbini Tumbao, Michelle Rosewoman project, and the legendary percussionist Candido Camero.
This opportunity is being sponsored by Carlene Raper and Julian Gerstin and thanks to the ongoing support of the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Lodging sponsors are the Hampton Inn. Many thanks to the Brattleboro Reformer, Vermont Arts Council, WVPR, VFCR, WVEW, WKVT and piano technician, Bill Ballard.
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In the Moment, 143 Main St, Brattleboro, VT
Call the Jazz Center at 802-254-9088 to reserve tickets.