The legacy of Cuban cuatro master Kiki Valera began with one of the most influential bands in the history of Son Cubano—La Familia Valera Miranda. The current Seattle resident has released an album of twelve original compositions on the highly regarded Origin Records label.
Valera's innovative approach to improvisation is well within the Son tradition, the music and dance of the eastern hill country of Cuba. There is however, a freedom and modern virtuosity that speaks to Valera's personal experiences in life and music in Cuba, and now, in the Pacific Northwest. On "Desenfreno" for example, he launches into an octave solo that conjures notions of Wes Montgomery, one of the many American jazz artists that have influenced him. It seems a logical step forward, all the while expressing the Son tradition that evolved from Spanish and African influences in the Caribbean.
"El Perro de Juan," is a hard-hitting dance number, featuring Valera's solo played over a Cuban ostinato, or guajeo. An intricate trumpet counter melody weaves its way through the piece, expressing the roots of the Afro-Cuban forms that make up a large piece of the jazz firmament. "Ferec'a" again displays Miranda's penchant for playing out on the edge of a melody while virtually recreating it harmonically.
The original compositions on the album were penned by Valera and vocalist Coco Freeman, a lifelong friend from Cuba now residing in Miami. Freeman's range, dynamism, and perfect call and response work with coro is the perfect counterbalance for Valera's sense of harmony and vibrant solo work.
With Vivencias en Clave Cubana, Valera and Freeman deliver with a joyous, virtuosic romp of expertly penned music performed with passion. Son Cubano, much like American jazz, has been in a constant state of evolution from its beginnings. Valera continues in that spirit, shedding new and modern light on the music.