It has been a long time in the making. The groups leader, flutist Jessica Valiente, has had her hands full juggling several priorities--raising a family and working on a DMA in performance at C.U.N.Y. She likes to joke that it has taken her longer to produce this CD than to produce two children! But it is finally done, and it follows in the same vein as the earlier recordings. The writing, which is mainly by Valiente and her husband, trombonist Rick Falkner, adroitly exploits the group's colors and textures, and draws on a range of different Latin-American forms: mambo, salsa, charanga, descarga, danzon, etc. (And what a nice idea to label each song's form next to its title in the notes.) The ensemble executes the charts with aplomb, driven by the percussion-rich rhythm section and anchored by Chiemi Nakai's keyboard work. And the soloists give a good account of themselves; Faulkner is a strong trombonist in the tradition of Jimmy Bosche, Kreisberg has a highly personal saxophone style with a sound that suggests some classical training, and Valiente, although she downplays her role as a soloist, has a fresh approach to the flute that is very appealing.
She has some competition; there are some wonderful Latin jazz artists in New York, including several excellent flutists--Dave Valentin, Andrea Brachfeld, Carlos Jimenez...Valiente stands out from all these through conception rather than raw technique. That she has technique I can attest, having attended her DMA recital, where she performed a program of solo flute literature from Tellemann to Paquito de Rivera. But she also has a wealth of knowledge about both jazz and Latin forms which she has applied both to the development of the group sound and to her role in it. Steeped in the Charanga tradition, with its emphasis on a flute-led ensemble, her solo role is closer to this Cuban form than to a jazz orientation. But it works beautifully. When she does feature herself, as on "Petite Fleur" and "Maria Cervantes," she scores with simplicity and directness.
Overall, Jessica Valientes is another artist with a strong local following but some way from national exposure. If you enjoy Latin music, however, you would do well to check out Los Mas Valientes.