June 2007

Francisco Mela Quartet
Art of Jazz Celebrations
June 2, 2007 Pure Spirits Stage The Distillery District Toronto
A Maelstrom Of Energy
by Paul J. Youngman with photo by Roger Humbert
Mela, as he likes to be known, took to the Pure Spirits Stage and at once became at one with the spirits of the Historic Distillery District. He explained to the audience that he had a new album and he would be playing most of the songs found in that recording. He said, “I would like to tell you what I’m trying to do, I want to combine the Afro-Cuban with jazz and free jazz.”

Francisco Mela’s voice has the smokey-sounding raw edges of a Flamenco singer, full of passion and fire. He played with mallets and created a percussive drum and cymbal ambiance while he sang the song “Parasuayo” from the album Melao. Saxophonist George Garzone introduced himself with a mellow, fluid and joyous fill. The song and the show had begun; a feeling of high energy permeated the air and a group of young people moved directly to the front of the stage, pulled in by the magnetic field.

Davide Virelles, pianist of one hundred faces, played a rolling wave of notes that created a feeling of movement, a gravity-free flight with runs of freedom and glory. Acoustic bassist John Benitez was in the groove and keeping a steady time of free flowing invention throughout this tripping flight of fancy. The song progressed in a free form style, played in a moderate tempo with the downbeat hidden amongst the polyrhythmic, syncopated beats that Mela so effortlessly and dynamically produces. Some of his rhythms and times are so syncopated; you are moved to catch yourself from falling.

Francisco Mela (born 1968 in Bayamo Gramma, Cuba) has played the sideman with Joe Lovano and most recently with Kenny Barron. He has also played with a who’s who of musical heavy weights, names like Steve Coleman, Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, John Scofield, John Patitucci, Jason Moran, Mark Turner, Stefon Harris, Regina Carter, Lionel Loueke and Chucho Valdés. Mela has also worked with Jane Bunnett & Spirits of Havana. Mela’s debut album Melao, released in 2006 on the Ayva Music Label, was voted amongst the top ten by webzine All About Jazz. Mela has been on the faculty of music at Berklee College of Music since 2002.
Francisco Mela
The second song opened with a drum introduction, a solo of magic and trickery from the hitting of bells and trinkets that encircled Mela’s neck to the throwing of sticks at cymbals. Playing the cymbals from every possible angle, including from the underside, Mela created a fascinating effect and pulled the audience into his mystical mannerism. There were moments when he seemed disconnected from his body, a highly spirited drummer who plays with feel as the primary motivation.

George Garzone played a melody that was very catchy and full of passion. The rhythm section’s playing was extremely intense and powerful, driven by the joy of this incredible interaction. Virelles wore many of his avant faces with playing that at times was as free-form as I have ever heard him. There were also moments when his left hand was producing classical sounding melodies and his right hand was picking wonderful sounding notes in accentuation to what John Benitez and Francisco Mela were playing.

The final song of the show started with Mela chanting in Spanish. Virelles joined in on piano and after about eight bars, drums, bass and saxophone entered. Davide Virelles played heavy percussive chords fully complementing the percussive bass style of John Benitez. George Garzone blew hot, sounding great. All too soon the final bar was played with exacting precision; the audience erupted in applause and continued to applaud, bringing the band back to the stage. One last number imprinted the incredible and spiritual Francisco Mela on our memory — as a powerhouse drummer and bandleader to look out for.

The musicians
Francisco Mela – drums
John Benitez – bass
David Virelles – piano
George Garzone – saxophone
We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
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Roger Humbert
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