Pianist Manuel Valera’s music is all about the groove, the ineffable feeling of forward motion that coaxes feet to tap and heads to bob. A native of Cuba, Valera has throughout his career explored the nature of clave—the heartbeat of Cuban music—and how clave can morph between genres. In an interview with Jazz Speaks last March, Valera noted that:
Most of my tunes have clave in them, even if they’re not Cuban-style tunes. Even when I write something that’s more straight-eighths, ECM-type things, it also has clave in it. And it all sort of grooves because the way we as humans listen to and create music is generally groovy. The whole “no time” with just a melody, avant-garde thing is something that we as listeners have to work on a little bit, because those things are very foreign to us. The whole groove thing is very important to me, whether it’s Cuban or funk or whatever.
This Friday, February 13th, Valera will bring his new Groove Square project to The Jazz Gallery, a project that explores the links between Cuban rhythms and the sound and feel of plugged-in funk. In the track “Coming Down,” below, Valera kicks everything off with a riff that at first sounds like something out of a mambo before bassist John Benitez and drummer E.J. Strickland jump in and immediately pull the tune into classic funk-fusion territory.
Even without the telltale sounds of Latin Jazz, “Coming Down” has the percussive chatter and lilt that makes clave-based music so rhythmically intoxicating. Don’t miss your chance to hear this music that straddles time and continents to meet in the always-hopping plaza known as Groove Square.
Manuel Valera’s Groove Square plays The Jazz Gallery on Friday, February 13th. The group features Valera on keyboards, John Ellis on saxophone, Nir Felder on guitar, John Benitez on bass, and E.J. Strickland on drums. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. $22 general admission ($12 for members). Purchase tickets here.