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.
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.
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 ; Guido González: trumpet [and solo on 4]; Kathleen Dran: trumpet ; 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
In Conversation with Trombonist, Composer, Arranger Papo Vázquez
Miguel de Armas: Miguel de Armas and The Ottawa Latin Jazz Orchestra
Django Festival Allstars with special guest Edmar Castañeda Featuring Dorado Schmitt and sons Samson & Amati
Christian McBride’s New Jawn at Koerner Hall: Concert Review
Papo Vázquez Holiday Jazz & Latin Jazz Parranda with The Mighty Pirates Troubadours
Donald Vega: As I Travel
“They Shot The Piano Player” Screening At The Village East in New York And The Royal in Los Angeles
Una Navidad Nuyorkina: Celebrating 40 Years of Los Pleneros de la 21
The Latin Side of Jazz Episode 35
Sebastian Schunke: Existential Intensities
NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas with Melvis Santa, Alfredo Rodríguez and Hilario Durán
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Borrowed Roses
Juan García-Herreros – The Snow Owl: Normas
Raphael Cruz Reaffirms His Commitment To Latin Jazz!
Edy Martínez, the Music Architect Behind the Piano
Rubén Blades con Roberto Delgado & Orquesta · Son de Panamá
Celebrating Emiliano Salvador and his Musical Legacy
Cubano Be, Cubano Bop: A Memorable Night in Toronto with Poncho Sánchez
A Conversation with Percussionist, Bandleader Poncho Sanchez
The Odyssey of Anat Cohen
Paquito D’Rivera & Quinteto Cimarrón: Aires Tropicales
Have You Seen My Nana? The Enduring Genius of Moacir Santos
Enrique Rodríguez: Enriquito – Me Quito El Sombrero
Roberto López Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra: Azul
Most Read in 2023
Featured Albums9 months ago
Aymée Nuviola feat. Kemuel Roig: Havana Nocturne
News10 months ago
Wilson “Chembo” Corniel Releases New Album: “Artistas, Músicos y Poetas”
News10 months ago
Aymée Nuviola To Release New Latin Jazz Album: “Havana Nocturne”
Events8 months ago
Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez Centennial Celebration