Dropping today is New Cuban Express, the new album from pianist and keyboard player Manuel Valera. Featuring his working band (Yosvany Terry on alto and soprano, Tom Guarna on guitar, bassist John Benitez, drummer Eric Doob and percussionist Mauricio Herrera), New Cuban Express consists of eleven Valera originals and two covers. Recorded just months before Valera’s first visit to Cuba in 17 years, the album’s music mixes Afro-Cuban styles with various forms of American pop.
One hears the influences of several genres coming together throughout the album. It opens with the spirited and driving title track which is driven by Herrera’s percussion and features fine solos from Valera, Guarna and Terry. Guarna’s electric guitar solo on “Choices” is definitely in a rock vein and Valera’s Fender Rhodes solo on the same tune has some subtle funk to it. Jose Antonio Mendez’s “Me Faltabas Tu” has a more R&B/soul feel to it, with Terry’s seductive alto carrying the melody. To really dig Herrera’s playing listen to his solo on the brief “Intro to Gismonteanda” and “Interlude,” which Valera adds wide swaths of synth color to.
The rhythm section grooves hard throughout (regardless of style) and is able to give the band plenty of forward motion while keeping things relaxed and lithe at the same time – just check out “Poly,” especially during Terry’s solo; polyrhythms don’t get much tighter.
New Cuban Express is an entertaining and well conceived set that takes a multitude of musical styles and fuses them together in a focused and effective way.