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Dr. Jessica Valiente and Los Mas Valientes: Valientazos

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Dr. Jessica Valiente and Los Más Valientes
Dr. Jessica Valiente and Los Más Valientes

If, like me, you were listening to the music of Los Mas Valientes – on their disc, Valientazos, to be precise – the chances are you would picture these musicians playing a gig – an impromptu one, at that – on the streets of La Habana, or Santo Domingo, or in El Barrio (NYC). The reason for the universality of the Afro-Caribbean/Latin American aura of their music is its cultural topography sweeps across Spanish-Latin America. Son and danzón is as germane an idiom to the music of Jessica Valiente and her ensemble as is merengue and other forms of dance music from the islands that dot the Caribbean Sea, the waves of which have lapped upon the North American shores – both on the West Coast, but particularly up north. This has made them one of the premier bands of so-called Nuyorican heritage, to which they lay claim.

Labels are abhorrent. It’s the rippling, percussive groove that counts; one that rocks with clave, back-beat, that shuffle which the white man struggles to get into, much to the polite amusement of musicians like these musicians. But they are not here to ridicule, rather they are here – on this record – Valientazos – to seduce and beckon listeners to abandon all inhibition and simply dance as if their lives depend on it. But make no mistake, there is a great deal of musical mastery that emerges while we are lost in the hypnosis of this music.

Jessica Valiente and Los Más Valientes: Valientazos
Jessica Valiente and Los Más Valientes: Valientazos

The leader and flutist, Dr. Jessica Valiente, is a self-effacing virtuoso with a burgeoning musical intellect, one which is naturally inclined to conceive music that describes the musical diaspora as vast as the ocean that encompasses it. This means that she envisions – in her music – not only the Atlantic islands, but also those across the continent in the Pacific. Hers is borderless Afro-Caribbean music, born of a love for traditions that bounce off the bows of Spanish galleons and are reflected in those who re-gifted the Spanish conquistadores with traditions of their own. It is only such a collision of cultures that enabled her to write music that is reflective of the entire diaspora that surrounds her.

The wind-playing here is characterful, with a twinkle not only in the eye of the flute soli, but also in the brass and winds, and in the mixture of liveliness and mellifluousness of the principal instruments – whatever they may be depending on the song. As an example of this ensemble/solo/ensemble performances take Miss Valientes’ El Professor, and a song by one of the main protagonists – Rick Faulkner, which is Awijee. Mr Faulkner’s brass playing is especially fine throughout. The trumpets [of Guido González and Kathleen Doran] are backed by hard-sticked timbales, while the horns are able to bray boisterously as well as pare their sound beautifully.

Listen also to how everyone is able to manage to both blend and be individually audible in that litmus test passage – the slow and hypnotic passage work of Xarope. What makes the disc so enjoyable, perhaps, is the fact that each chart feels individually and carefully characterized. Vivid traditionalism is tempered with cheeky slides outside the box. Who can resist the clamour and clatter of Banku? You might have a favourite disc of this broad swathe of Afro-Caribbean music, but I’d say that this one definitely demands to be heard.

Deo gratis…

YouTube Playlist – Los Más Valientes: Valientazos

Music – 1: N(N+1)/1  2: Ybor City; 3: Lamento Borincano; 4: El Professor; 5: Kreyol; 6: Banku; 7: Xarope; 8: Elegy; 9: Awijee.

Musicians – Jessica Valiente: flutes and musical director; Debra Kreisberg: alto saxophone and clarinet; Rick Faulkner: trombone and arranger; Amy Millian: piano; Anna Milat-Meyer: electric bass; Victor Rendon: timbales, drum set and shekere; Yasuyo Kimura: congas and shekere; Renato Thoms: bongo, cowbell, guiro, shekere and additional percussion; Special Guests – Antonio Kohiba Rivera: traditional French 8-key flute solo [2]; Guido González: trumpet [and solo on 4]; Kathleen Dran: trumpet [4]; Joe Stelluti: tenor saxophone [and solo on 4]; Maggie Faulkner: violin 3, 5]; Daphne Faulkner: violin [3, 5]; Lisa Faulkner: viola [3, 5].

Released – 2023
Label – 706 Music
Runtime – 54:30

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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