Manuel Valera advises his students at New York University to write music every day. “I tell them that composition is essentially another instrument – the more you practice, the better you get at it,” says the 42-year-old piano master, who, by his count, has generated some 200 recorded pieces since he entered the fray in the early aughts.
Vessel, Valera’s second album for Criss Cross, showcases eight recent works, each “honoring a different person who’s influenced my music.” Valera made it in January 2023, nine years after presenting another eight originals on In Motion (Criss 1372) which featured a slamming iteration of his New Cuban Express ensemble, whose eponymous first CD had earned a 2013 Grammy nomination for “Best Latin Jazz Album.” The pieces on that straight-eighth oriented session mixed elements from various Afro-Cuban dialects with postbop, fusion jazz, funk and R&B, incorporating intricate beat modulation, odd meters, and intriguing ensemble color.
On In Motion, as on most of his 16 albums since 2004, Valera established the compositions as “the complete framework for the improvisations – although the solos, of course, are also important.” But here, as indicated by the title, Valera diverges, constructing pieces that are “vessels for improvising, like they wrote them on the old Blue Note records. You play the tune, you blow over the tune, then you play the tune again – the improvisation is as important as the composition. A lot is going on, but there’s still that connection to the older tunes – and a couple sound like they could have been from way back.”
|1.||Blues For Kenny K (Manuel Valera) 7:24|
|2.||First Day (Manuel Valera) 8:20|
|3.||Pablo (Manuel Valera) 7:40|
|4.||Sunset (Manuel Valera) 6:43|
|5.||Garzonian (Manuel Valera) 7:17|
|6.||Alma (Manuel Valera) 5:17|
|7.||Crisis (Manuel Valera) 8:42|
|8.||Remembrance (Manuel Valera) 5:08|
|9.||Chance (Kenny Kirkland) 5:31|
|10.||Mr. Henderson (Manuel Valera) 7:25|
Total Time: 69:27
Recorded January 26, 2023 in Astoria, NY, USA by Mike Marciano