By: Edward Blanco

After performing primarily modern post-bop material on his previous five releases, in which some Latin rhythms were included but were never the focus, Cuban-born pianist Manuel Valera finally pays tribute to his Afro-Cuban roots on his sixth album as leader with the New Cuban Express. Accompanied by fellow Cuban musicians alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry and percussionist Mauricio Herrera, Valera leads an exciting sextet that brings the voices of New York guitarist Tom Guarna, Grammy award-winning Puerto Rican-born bassist John Benitez and much in-demand drummer Eric Doob, to the fore in blending the Latin flavor with the high-energy texture of jazz fusion creating the new sounds of “Latusion.”

As is the case with any Latin-styled recording, the percussions are important and to this extent Doob and Herrera make sure the rhythms section contributes its share of percussive power. Guitarist Guarna and saxophonist Terry certainly provide tight, and as the press clippings state “chops-busting unison lines…” throughout, but it is Valera who shines with his skills on the piano and talents bas a composer/arranger. Don’t be fooled by the nature of the disc for this is not a typical Latin jazz project as Valera alternates between the piano, Fender Rhodes and the keyboards in which he adds a touch of the mini-moog and the synthesizer—all lending to the modern jazz/ fusion color of the music
While the song listing indicates thirteen original pieces, three of the tracks are essentially set up introductions leaving ten gyrating propulsive tunes to enjoy beginning with the hot title track followed by the fusion-tinged “Upwards,” and “Choices” before settling down to the soft Latin-tinged sounds of the beautiful “Me Faltabas Tu’” featuring saxophonist Terry on exquisite solos. With “Regard” possessing more of a modern jazz texture, “Poly” is clearly the best of the many highlight on the disc. The Afro-Cuban rhythms come through brightly on such pieces as “Gismonteando,” Cinco Contras Tres” and the delightful “Danzon.”

The interesting sounds of the pianist’s latest outing ends on the same assertive note as it began closing with the percussive reverberations of the spicy “Makuta.” Eschewing the normal rhythmic overtones of typical Latin music, pianist Manuel Valera carves out a new approach in paying homage to his Cuban heritage. Valera is part of a new generation of musicians who decides to take a leap forward in exploring the boundaries of jazz and changing them. With New Cuban Express, Valera stakes his claim for the establishment of a new sound in fusing rhythms of Latin with elements of modern/fusion jazz in what is previously referred to here as perhaps, the “Latusion” sound.

Year: 2012 Label: Mavo Records Artist Web: