Manuel Valera's Forma Nueva (Mavo) is one of the most promising piano recording debuts in recent years. Valera was born 23 years ago in Cuba, where he studied classical saxophone, and emigrated to the U.S. when he was 14-which is also when he began playing piano. What is impressive about Forma Nueva is not Valera's eclecticism, which is expected, nor even his command of the keyboard, which approaches Brad Mehldau levels of completeness. It is rather the elegance with which he shapes his high-energy expressiveness into intricate, flowing musical wholes.
Valera's colleagues-John Patitucci on bass, Horacio Hernandez or Bill Stewart on drums, Seamus Blake on tenor on four numbers-are so musically athletic they are able to follow and even anticipate the pianist's most extravagant ideational outpourings. The piece that most persuasively demonstrates Valera's artistic maturity is the only standard, Jimmy McHugh's "Say It (Over And Over Again)," with its patient revelation of personal emotional truth.