BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont Jazz Center will present Cuban pianist/composer Manuel Valera in concert with the New Cuban Express Quintet on Saturday at 8 p.m.
This international band is touring in support of a new, acclaimed recording, "Expectativas," its second Grammy-nominated disc in two years. Valera (Cuba) is on piano and keyboards, Joel Frahm (U.S.), saxophone, John Benitez (Puerto Rico), bass, Ludwig Alfonso (Cuba), drums and Mauricio Herrera (Cuba), percussion.
Although Valera is in his mid-30s, he’s recorded seven highly regarded CDs as a leader and as a sideman has played with some of jazz’s most advanced and demanding luminaries. He appeared as pianist when drummer Dafnis Prieto performed at the Vermont Jazz Center in 2009. He has also recorded with Paquito D’Rivera, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chucho Valdés, Samuel Torres and others.
As a composer, Valera has been 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 group concept is now manifest in its second recording in two years; each one has been nominated for a Latin Grammy.
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 writing includes the rhythmic pulse of Cuba, but pushes the envelope by marrying it to his own personal jazz influences like Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and Miles Davis.
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, Dewey Redman, Lee Konitz, Kurt Rosenwinkel, The Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and many others.
The bassist is Grammy Award-winner John Benitez who has worked with Batacumbele, Joe Madrid, Wynton Marsalis, Tito Puente, Lalo Rodriguez, Hilton Ruiz, Chucho Valdez Eddie Palmieri and Roy Hargrove’s Grammy award-winning Crisol Band.
Drummer Ludwig Alfonso has performed with Maria Schneider, Joshua Redman, Nestor Torres and Othello Mollineux and appeared on four Grammy-nominated CDs with Spyro Gyra, Hector Martignon, Sammy Figueroa and Manuel Valera.
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, Grupo Ibboru, Spanish Harlem Orchestra and the legendary percussionist Candido Camero.
This concert is sponsored by Carlene Raper and Julian Gerstin and is 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.
Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts). Tickets are available at In the Moment Record Store, 143 Main St.,, at www.vtjazz.org or can be reserved by calling 802-254-9088, ext. 1.