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Francisco Mela
MPT Trio: Volume 1 Cal Cashin , January 22nd, 2021 09:18

With a new trio featuring Hery Paz and Juanma Trujillo, Francisco Mela offers a bold mix of free jazz and Caribbean folk music

Cuban jazz drummer Francisco Mela boasts a storied career. Alongside 00s albums as a band leader on Blue Note’s sister label, he’s spent the last two decades garnering acclaim collaborating with the likes of Esperanza Spalding and Kenny Barron. Now, as the curtain rises on 2021, we are greeted with the mercurial sticksman’s boldest and bravest work to date, with his new band, the MPT Trio.

The MPT trio are completed by Cuban tenor sax player Hery Paz, and Venezuelan guitarist Juanma Trujillo, and on MPT Trio Volume 1, something special occurs. Maverick fusions of traditional Carribean music, free jazz squall and mercurial guitars combine to make something wholly new. Moments border on tranquil beauty, while others verve with hard-rock scronk.

Opener ‘Calipso’ illustrates this perfectly. Mela toys with the sunshine tones of steel drums, perfectly complimenting the island motifs of Paz’s sax, whilst Trujillo’s stop-start noodling throws the whole project on an off-the-radar adventure. Occasionally heavy, but with a calculated deftness, the Venezuelan player is equal parts Sonny Sharrock and David Pajo in his daring guitar lines.

On ‘Suite for Leo Brouwer’, a nine minute salute to a legend of Cuban music, Mela’s playing is just as avant-garde as Trujillo’s guitar playing, harrying drumming propels the composition forward in a time signature not even the MPT Trio could describe. Lucious, fluttering sax envelops the discordance, as the trio scoot to the track’s noisy, bombastic set pieces.

On ‘Vino’, the band reach a kind of avant-rock euphoria. Trujillo’s granted a song-length guitar solo, and swamps its frenzied grooves with ecstatic noise, like some kind of Van Halen stadium rock patchwork, cut up and sewn back together by The Reanimator. The guitarist’s playing is totally novel and utterly batshit, yet effortless in its majesty. ‘Baldor’ is much the same, threatening to break into straight-up rock any second. But here Paz is the star of the show, his tenor sax guiding the group with so many sonic left-turns, it’s difficult to work out where you’ve ended up once the track is over.

The MPT Trio are a real power trio in every sense of the word. Whilst occasionally capable of gorgeous little ditties (see: ‘Naima’), they’re at their best when each member is giving it both barrels. Each player is totally off-kilter, and at their best – like on fragmented closer ‘El Llanto de la Tierra’ – when it sounds like they could each be playing different songs. Whilst there are gems in each player’s discography, and Mela has spent a career lighting up every recording he drums on, this is the boldest and best entry point into each of the trio’s discography. With a lot of bleak shit happening in the world right now, and little to look forward, thank your lucky stars that this is only MPT Trio: Volume 1.