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Francisco Mela: Free Jazz Latin

Francisco Mela

Like many musicians, drummer Francisco Mela is impatient with categories, but he’s willing to pin down his mercurial concept as “free jazz Latin.” With his second album as a leader, Cirio: Live at the Blue Note, the New York-based Cuban native continues what he started on Melao, his acclaimed 2006 debut, leading an all-star quintet through new compositions that draw strength equally from modern jazz harmony and Afro-Cuban rhythmic DNA. “I never want to lose that,” says Mela of his Cuban birthright, which guides him even as he embraces the legacy of drummer-bandleader heroes such as Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes.

The fact that Mela staffed his group with some of the strongest personalities in jazz today-guitarist Lionel Loueke, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Larry Grenadier-speaks volumes about his own self-confidence as a leader. The goal with Cirio was to assert his own identity while featuring his sidemen to the fullest; hence his decision to include trio vehicles like “Channel 2” (for Turner), the romantic “Maria” (for Moran), and the trickily syncopated “Benes” (aka “Benny’s Tune,” for Loueke) in addition to full-band numbers such as “Tierra and Fuego” and “Afro Son.”

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