This album, by Manuel Valera Sr. Recuerdos ranks—with Charlie Haden’s Nocturne as one of the most beautiful albums of boleros made in recent times. Mr. Valera is a superb alto saxophonist with a sinewy, yet mellow tone that seems to take its cue from the likes of Lester Young. And when he plays soprano he sounds like an excited bird in flight, swooping down to show off its exquisiteness from time to time. Mr. Valera has a voice of his own. His soaring (and dipping) intonation is described in arcs that are wide and wondrous. These are, somehow, more pronounced when he plays the soprano saxophone, although his lines on alto might also curve in magnificent parabolas, laced with the décor befitting a splendid baroque ornament. However, Mr. Valera can also be utterly simple in the short soli that he takes, in deference to the utter simplicity of the nature of the bolero. He expresses himself with a wonderful choice of notes. This speaks to his masterly musicianship as well as to his rare intellect that can only come from years of practicing his art and fine tuning it as he went along. Had he sung, Mr. Valera might have been a troubadour. As it is he already sounds like one as he plays wordless melodies with such unassuming brilliance. In all of these aspects there seems to be no one like him in the almost liquid, glimmering tone and manner with which he plays. “Solitude,” played as a duet with his son is heartbreakingly beautiful.
Much of what is exquisite about Recuerdos has to do with the fact that the ensemble here is blessed with superb arrangements, all of which are owed to Mr. Valera’s piano-playing son, Manuel, author and leader of the famous New Cuban Express and all of its extraordinary music. The younger Mr. Valera has not been around music as traditional as this in a long time. His attachment to the Afro-Cuban music of the bolero is shown to be so beautiful that it might be sure to leave the listener almost teary-eyed. Take the Osvaldo Farrés classic “Tres Palabras” for instance. The song is played with much soul and spirituality. The soli of both father and son are perhaps the most magnificent on the whole album, although the musicality of the two on the spectacular “Si Me Comprendieras” is just as marvelous. Their playing is matched in ingenuity by the superb bass of Hans Glawischnig. The Austrian-born, New York-based sensation has a reputation for extraordinary flexibility. This enables him to play in various scenarios and with musicians of varied temperaments. The bassist is able also to play in a myriad of idioms, so it ought to be no surprise that he is so comfortable in the Afro-Latin one. And yet the listener might marvel at his muscular, loping style that results in exquisite melodic lines that run counter to the main melody. Mr. Glawischnig is one of the lead voices on this recording and he contributes mightily to its beauty everywhere on this recording, but especially on “Canción de Un Festival”.
Percussion is so important to any recording, much more so the Afro-Cuban ones, where clave rules. Here there are no words of praise enough to describe the playing of drummer Ludwig Afonso and the percussionist Mauricio Herrera. Together they control a colour-palette that is tastefully used and with so much attention to harmonics that they too are pivotal in the making of this recording, which must surely rank as one of the best of its kind in 2014.
Track List: Si Me Comprendieras; La Rosa Roja; Alma con Alma; La Tarde; Longina; Tres Palabras; Si Te Contara; Solamente Una Vez; Canción de Un Festival; Solitude
Personnel: Manuel Valera Sr.: alto and soprano saxophones; Manuel Valera: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Ludwig Afonso: drums; Mauricio Herrera: percussion
Label: Mavo Records | Release date: November 2014 | Buy music on: amazon