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No Escape by Ramón Valle

Pianist Ramón Valle’s first concern as a Jazz artist has been to find his own voice. He is now at the place where he feels he has done that and his concern has moved to expanding his musical language and reaching for higher levels of expression. Although he was raised in Cuba and received the extraordinary classical trainingwhich Cuban musicians are known for, American Jazz was not a foreign music tohim. His father played trumpet and loved Jazz and owned recordings by suchartists as Gerry Mulligan and Dizzy. There were Jam sessions at his home-descargas with Cuban percussion and jazz inspired solos. There was also a CubanJazz show on the radio nightly and a USA station that came in and out. Ramónwould hear a few bars of music, then the sound would fade leaving him to complete the musical phrases in his imagination. The traditional music of his homeland was omnipresent and absorbed daily in the air, the voices, the life all around him. Hismother sang, loved poetry and insured that he and his five sisters -all of whom alsoplay music -studied hard, practiced and pursued their musical studies withdiscipline and dedication.

The title of his latest CD " No Escape" came from producer Siegfried Loch who saidthe Ramón’s music held you captive and enthralled and once in the grip there wasno escape. I experienced this at a Madrid Jam Session where he played on a recentvisit. He came to the bandstand and from the first note it was obvious thatsomething different, almost from another dimension was happening and I witnessedan audience held captive, dumbfounded and amazed at what they were hearing.With his beatific smile and warm engaging manner he beguiled the other musicianson the stand into following him into a spacious, flowing yet eclectic expression as hedeconstructed the standards "All the Things You Are’ and ‘Lover Man.’

In his trio with fellow Cubans - Bassist Omar Rodriguez Calvo and drummer LiberTorriente - they are seeking to find and express their personal group voice andredefine what Latin Jazz could be with expanded parameters, by creating aninterplay of conversation in which the basic rhythm and harmonies are felt and usedas an internal source for new directions. The trio has been playing together for 7years and know each other intimately functioning together as one cohesive unitcomprised of 3 strong musical personalities. These are musicians who havethoroughly absorbed and internalized the language and sensibilities of jazz. TheirCuban musical heritage is alive in their bones, breath and blood but not implicitlystated. This is the latest direction of Cuban Jazz that is setting new standards anddirections. They are so passionately committed to the continued evolution of thissound that when not actually playing they are endlessly talking about the music andhow to keep it fresh, alive and growing. These are young artists in full command oftheir technical and artistic development and ready to follow where the music isleading them and conscious of both their command of their art and of the placewhere they surrender all control and allow the music to breathe and go its owncourse free from preconceptions and expectations.

The music of No Escape is all original and composed by Ramón Valle who in hiscompositional process first hears the melody and then sees it as a shape, finallyallowing it to incubate until it emerges as a complete piece.

The first cut "El Vigia", refers to someone who watches at the border and is ametaphor for fathers who watch over their children and try to protect them fromany dangers that may lie in their path. It is a lilting waltz, which makes masterfuluse of dynamics and colors emphasizing group interplay using a deceptively simplethematic device that is developed with subtle intensity. It is a beautiful example ofthe conversational aspect of the musical aesthetic than Valle espouses for his triowork.

‘De Vuelta Casa’, is an expression of the joy of returning home, well known to alltravelers and immigrants. It is taken at a brisk tempo though the light deft touch ofdrummer Torriente makes the time seem to float. Emerging from the sophisticatedharmonies is the suggestion of a montuno, which dissolves back into bubblingdancing rhythmic flow. Bassist Omar Rodríguez emerges at one point from the flow, as a lead voice in the conversation which is responded to by Valle in a 21st centuryversion of call and response, showing that a music on the cutting edge of harmonicsophistication can still retain African roots by virtue of sensibility and point ofreference. Alive in Valle’s musical voice is the spirituality of his mother who carriesin her blood the voices of her Yoruba ancestors. The African sensibilities can also beheard in the drums of Torriente which unlike the traditional swing feel- which seemsto be in route on a highway- he create a percussive environment where we arealready there, just exploring and enjoying being in the eternal moment, which is aprofoundly African musical quality.

"Forty Degrees" (centigrade) is about heat and burns with a strong open rhythmembellished with Arabic and Spanish scales structures. The group demonstrates analmost telepathic group interaction as a simple repeated bass figure is deconstructedand permutated and used as the basis for improvisation with a series of rhythmicbreaks. The whole piece, as is all of Valle’s work, is highly reminiscent of Bud Powelland Elmo Hope.

"Vivo Coltrane" was created live in the studio during the recording session. Theproducer played Coltrane’s "Ole" for Valle, which he had not previously heard.Using that as a basis the group took the 6/8 rhythms and the melodic idea to createfreely an interpretation, which is meditative and illustrates the musical onenesscreated by 7 years of collaboration. Improvisation can be compared to lovemakingwhich done right requires deep surrender and sensitivity to your partner. If thatmetaphor holds here this sounds like lovers who know each other’s bodies so wellthey can relax completely into the dance of love.

"Andar Por Dentro" (literally Walk Inside) is a ballad about the fact that we allhave our cross to bear and even those who appear happy can be carrying a deepsadness inside. For Ramón Valle, that sadness he carries in the midst of an otherwisehappy and fulfilling life is the pain of being so far from his home and his belovedfamily in Cuba. He tells us that sometimes pain demands our presence and all wecan do is walk inside and be there with it, experiencing it fully. This contemplativeexpression is made on top of a bass pedal tone and while the time is there, it is feltmore as a heartbeat pulse. Ramón Valle through his composition allows us to takethis journey, to walk inside ourselves and embrace our pain and the ultimate ironyand paradox of life, it’s essentially bittersweet quality, the knowledge that joy andpain are interdependent.

"Illegal" was written in response to Valle’s experience of living for a short time inHolland without residence papers. Although now he holds Dutch citizenship, heremembers the vulnerability of that situation. The expression is made in a free Jazzformat, although the freedom is only possible because of intense discipline and focus,and is an improvisation on the highly composed rhythmic structures at thebeginning and end. This has a dark serious quality evoking the urban streets andstark inescapable realities.

Ramon Valle feels strongly that life without risk will yield little fruit. He states thatin order to fly you have to jump off the cliff. In his life and music he has dared andchallenged himself to take his art to the next level. "No Escape" is also about hispersonal mission to recreate Latin Jazz and continue to grow and evolve as an artist,and from that compulsion, he also has "No Escape".

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ramón Valle
  • CD Title: No Escape
  • Genre: Latin Jazz / Latin Funk
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: ACT
  • Musicians: Ramón Valle(piano), Omar Rodríguez Calvo(bass), Liber Torriente(drums).
  • Rating: Five Stars
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