Manuel Valera Sr. Boleros y Recuerdos

Originally written by Raul da Gama for L J N = Latin Jazz Network,  in 2014

Edition, adaptation and new comments by Toni Basanta from Fairfax, Vermont, USA

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 the 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, Sr.,  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  (Remembrances) 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 II,  has not been around music as traditional as this in a long time.

His attachment to 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” (Three Words) 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” (If you could understand me) 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” (Song for a 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  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 (Jose Antonio Mendez), La Rosa Roja ( ),  Alma con Alma (Juanito Marquez),  La Tarde (Sindo Garay),  Longina (Manuel Corona),  Tres Palabras (Osvaldo Farres),  Si Te Contara (Felix Reina),  Solamente Una Vez (Agustin Lara),  Canción de un Festival (Cesar Portillo de la Luz),  (In my) Solitude (Duke Ellington).

Personnel : Manuel Valera Sr.  (alto and soprano saxophones),  Manuel Valera, Jr.,  (piano)        Hans Glawischnig  (bass), Ludwig Afonso (drums),  Mauricio Herrera  (percussion).

Label: Mavo Records | Release date: November 2014 | Buy music on: amazon

My comment  on March 28,  2017

I agree with Raul da Gama, that MANUEL VALERA Sr., might have been a troubadour, cause he played with Troubadours while staying at GESI = EL Grupo de Experimentacion Sonora del ICAIC, where  4 great Cuban saxophonists were on board before : Leonardo Acosta, Carlos Averhoff., Sr., and Paquito D’Rivera. 

But VALERA is capable at playing all the different Cuban genres and music styles, including dancing music, and in his album RECUERDOS  – he brings back the Art of singing with FEELING that characterized several decades of Cuban music coming from the 1940s when JAZZ served to dress some of these compositions with the Cuban Jazz combos of  Felo Bergaza, Juan Bruno Tarraza, Felipe Dulzaides y Los Armonicos among  other top-shelf  masters.   

It will be nurturing,  for new comers if we could also listen to him blowing his saxophones and the flute with the likes of  Justo Almario, Mongo Santamaria and Algo Nuevo in “Footprints” by Wayne Shorter,  with Gonzalito Rubalcaba  y su Grupo Proyecto in “Pisando el cesped”, with another pianist-composer Jose Maria Vitier  in “Caleidoscopio”, with singer Rudy Calzado y Cubarama or live,  leading  The Cuban Saxophone Quintet,  and playing with Bobby Carcasses y AfroJazz  at The Havana International Jazz Festival, thirty seven years ago …   

Revolving a not distant past, and savoring a New Romance with these caressing BOLEROS.


Toni Basanta

DJ Host of The Cuban Bridge on the radio and on television



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