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Melancolia by Manuel Valera Group

Pianist and composer Manuel Valera caught listeners’ attention in 2004 with the release of his debut, Forma Nueva. His star continues to rise with Melancolia, a gem of an instrumental album that highlights both his deft playing and his creative compositions.

Eleven of the 13 songs are originals, including the opener, "De Un Pajaro Las Dos Alas," for which Cuban-born Valera won the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award. The stylish tune has a Latin rhythm behind it and features saxophonist Seamus Blake, who is outstanding throughout the album. His work pushes the song to an early peak. The number then shifts moods and opens up into a Valera solo, which starts out gently but picks up speed to build to another climax.

Valera’s group also includes Ben Street on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums, and Luisito Quintero on percussion. Melancolia is given depth by the addition of a string quartet. The quartet provides texture to the moody ballad Yesterday’s Song.

Strings are also used on Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor, which is given a slight Latin vibe. Here, Blake plays soprano sax, but it is Valera’s simmering solo that stands out. The only other song on the CD not written by Valera is Silvio Rodriguez’s title track, a beautiful sad number.

Cuban rhythms can be heard throughout the music, but they are an undercurrent and are seldom overpowering. Overall, Valera’s music, whether it is a ballad or tango, is strong and dramatic from start to finish.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Manuel Valera Group
  • CD Title: Melancolia
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Mavo
  • Tracks: De Un Pajaro Las Dos Alas, Alibi, Yesterday’s Song, Intro to Prelude, Prelude in C# Minor, Hidden, O Melancolia, Peregrinations, While She Sleeps, (Or Not), Interlude, Astorish, La Otra Mano
  • Musicians: Manuel Valera (piano), Seamus Blake (saxophone), Ben Street (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums), Luisito Quintero (percussion), Joyce Hanann (violin), K. Ishibashi (violin), Mat Maneri (viola), and Chris Hoffman (cello)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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