Francisco Mela’s Cirio, recorded live at the Blue Note, has a distinct and powerful feel. An all-star band including Jason Moran, Larry Grenadier, Mark Turner, and Lionel Loueke joins the Cuban-born drummer. Mela's compositions are dark and rough, with melodies that nod toward traditional Latin music, and which alternate between heavy, lopsided grooves and inward looking improvised collages.
Cuban Roots, Jazz Branches
Mela studied classical and Afro-Cuban percussion in Cuba as a teenager. He moved to Boston at age 19, and instead of attending school, began playing with faculty at Berklee College of Music, where he was later asked to teach. He shares the stage with Kenny Barron, Joe Lovano, George Garzone, David Sanchez, and many others, contributing to a broad range of experience that has influenced his unique style of composition, which melds Cuban music, jazz, and free improvisation.
Varied Rhythmic Approaches
At times Mela sounds as though he is playing timbales, getting a sharp, round tone from his snare drum and toms. His feel is propulsive, and with his refined technique he balances aggression with fragility. The album begins with two driving tunes, “Tierra And Fuego,” and “Channel 2,” involving the whole band. “Cirio,” named for Mela’s late father, is a brooding piece that abandons pulse and makes use of drones, spacey guitar effects, and drawn out melodies over a rumbling rhythm section.
The album takes a turn with “Maria,” for Mela’s mother, and Loueke and Turner drop out to allow Moran to lead the group as a trio. Each of the following tunes maintains a lighter and looser feel than the combustible opening numbers. They drop in and out of steady tempos, and are more focused on atmosphere and sonic effect than melody and rhythmic drive. The last tune, “Afro Son,” begins with a series of cerebral and menacing utterances from each instrument, suddenly building into a demonic repeated passage, or ostenato, around which the entire piece revolves.
Cirio is an exciting live recording that shows promise for Francisco Mela, who has released one other album, Melao (Ayva Musica, 2006) as a leader. The compositions allow each performer, especially Mark Turner and Jason Moran, to contribute their unique sounds, but subtly altered by the harmonic and rhythmic characteristics of the music.
September 23, 2008 (Half Note Records)
- Tierra and Fuego
- Channel 2
- Pequeña Serenata de Urna
- Urick Mela
- Afro Son
- Francisco Mela – Drums, Vocals
- Jason Moran – Piano
- Larry Grenadier – Bass
- Mark Turner – Tenor Saxophone
- Lionel Loueke – Guitar, Vocals