• 01. John Ramsay
  • 02. Sorpresa
  • 03. Arere
  • 04. Parasuayo
  • 05. Galaxy
  • 06. Chela
  • 07. Obayoko (Intro)
  • 08. Obayoko
  • 09. Law Years
  • 10. Parallel World

Melao – Francisco Mela

2006 | Ayva Music

“Danilo encouraged me to move to Boston,” Francisco reminisces.  “He said, ‘Don’t worry. if you come to Boston, you’re going to end up playing with better people than me.’” He initially planned to study at either Berklee College or The New England Conservatory of Music, but professional opportunities headed him in another direction. It wasn’t long before Francisco was the house drummer of Wally’s Café, one of Boston’s hottest jazz clubs. While honing his own sound as a jazz drummer and broadening his leadership role as leader of a quintet, he also had an opportunity to back such world class talent as Pérez, fellow Cuban Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and his longtime idol, drummer Roy Haynes.

“Elvin Jones was the first jazz drummer I heard, through recordings, while still in Cuba,” Francisco remembers. “I loved the music, but at first, I didn’t understand it. But when I discovered Roy Haynes, that was the one -it all made sense, and he became my biggest influence.”

Eventually, he started playing with music professors at Berklee. Then, one day, he received a call to teach at the prestigious institution. “But I still feel like a student,” he says gleefully. He balances a hectic schedule of appearances with pianist Kenny Barron, saxophonists Lovano, David Sanchez and George Garzone, bassist John Patitucci, guitarist John Scofield and many other noted leaders and performances with his own group with teaching a class in Afro-Cuban and Brazilian percussion and teaching private lessons to two dozen students.

On Melao, Francisco is joined by some of the most talked about musicians of the day. In addition to Lovano, the date features saxophonists Garzone and Anat Cohen and the Benin, Africa-born guitarist Lionel Loueke, who was recently the subject of a cover feature in JAZZIZ Magazine.

The story of how Lovano came to be involved is one Francisco particularly likes to tell. “One day,” he remembers vividly, “I was performing at the Berklee Performance Center, and Joe walked in. Later, some of the students told me that he had said my playing was beautiful, but I thought they were kidding. Then, when Chucho Valdé s came to Boston, and Joe was his guest, I went to see Chucho, and Joe said, ‘Hey Chucho, this is the drummer I was telling you about.’ And then Joe asked me for my phone number.”
Playing behind Lovano, following his melodies and being able to have a dialogue – an interplay – with him, is, as Francisco notes, “Very beautiful, exciting and challenging. And, wow, for me, what can you say when you’ve played with Joe? It’s one of the hippest things you can do.”

In addition to his intuitive, tasteful and airy drumming, one of the highlights of Melao is the opportunity to hear nine of the leader’s self-composed works. “I really got into composing when I came to Boston, and Danilo and Joe began to ask me to write down my ideas. Danilo gave me a little keyboard and told me I should write down my music ideas.

For my composing, when I decide to write something, I sing all of the parts, the bass, the melody, the harmony, everything, into a recording device. Then I go to the keyboard and work out the chords and I put the whole thing together. I have to begin with a melody. Then, I get together with my pianist, and we put the arrangement together.”

Francisco’s professional horizons continue to broaden as he collaborates with more and more musicians. One of them is saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, a fellow Cuban and, as it turns out, a distant cousin. “Now when he calls me, he says, ’Hey primo,’” Francisco says proudly. “The first time he saw me perform, I only had one cymbal, one snare, a tom and a bass drum. It was very simple, but later he said that I was playing all the right stuff.”

Playing “the right stuff” has attracted the attention of an increasingly wide circle of admirers, including JAZZ TIMES Magazine, which has dubbed Mela “one of the most important Cuban drummers in jazz.”

But for rancisco, it’s simply a matter of pursuing what he loves most. “I want to keep developing a free kind of atmosphere, keeping the Cuban element really inside,” he confides. “Free jazz Latin is the concept I have for my music. I want to be one of the first from my country to create this kind of music.”

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