Manuel Valera Brings a Cuban Touch to the Geller Jazz Concert

Monica Sager, Scarlet Staff

The Grind was full the night of September 25 for the seventh annual Geller Jazz Concert, featuring The New Cuban Express with Manuel Valera.

“Tonight’s concert is always centered more around a nightclub feel,” said Matt Malsky, professor of music. “You’re in for an incredible concert tonight.”

The New Cuban Express is musically inspired from Cuban artists in the 1970s and 1980s, adding in sounds of Afro-Cuban rhythms and American pop and post-bop improvisation.

As the lights of the Grind dimmed on the 50 people in the audience, New Cuban Express proved these influences with the composition of Valera on piano, saxophone, trumpet, drums, bongo, and bass.

Manuel Valera is an acclaimed pianist, who was recently nominated for a Grammy. Valera comes from a long line of virtuoso Cuban-born musicians based in New York, and has established himself by winning a Guggenheim award this year.

“It’s amazing that you guys got this [event] going,” Valera said. “Keep it going for as long as you can.”

The first song took a samba feel, as the trumpet and saxophone harmonized with the piano to create a big melodious sound together. The saxophone’s solo hit high notes not even physically on the instrument, while the drums’ high hat hits added a cut into the song.

“Upwards,” the band’s second song of the night, added a big band feel that was a lot more jazzy than the first. A jazzy, almost bluesy riff by the band took place after each lick. The piano solo was composed of almost hitting the notes with his left hand in what sounds random and hard hitting but in reality was on purpose, while the right hand eloquently harmonized and created an ongoing story with the jazz feel the song had.

Camila Meza, vocalist, joined the band for their last two songs. Meza’s Spanish singing was based on a poem on the Garden of Eden – which fit perfectly with her flora dress. The song evoked similar feelings to last semester’s Geller Jazz Series installment when Grace Kelly joined Trio de Paz in Razzo and brought a big band feel with big, collaborative hits throughout the song.

The last song of the night was about forbidden love and was dramatically slower than the rest.

Tickets were free, and the program was open to the public.

The Geller Jazz Concert is an annual event from Selma Geller’s efforts to provide music scholarships, as well as, musical performances for Clark University students. Last year’s Geller Jazz Concert featured the Haitian Jazz Project, made up of Godwin Louis on saxophone, Bill Buss on trumpet, Aaron Goldberg on keys, Johnathan Michael on bass, and Allan Mednard on drums. The band also featured vocalist Pauline Jean. Last spring, the Melissa Aldana Quartet and Trio de Paz performed.

The Spring Geller Jazz Concert event will take place April 16.