Francisco Mela is a favorite among jazz's elite instrumentalists, among them, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, JoAnne Brackeen, Kenny Barron, and McCoy Tyner, all of whom cite his charisma, sophistication, and life-affirming spirit as an extension of his incredible talents as a composer and drummer.
Francisco Mela was born in 1968 in Bayamo, Cuba. Mela moved to Boston in 2000 to pursue a degree at the acclaimed Berklee College of Music. The faculty quickly recognized that Mela had much to offer students and promptly hired him to teach at the school. Mela quickly made a name for himself on the Boston scene, becoming the house drummer at the legendary Wally’s Café Jazz Club. It was at Wally’s that Mela began developing a concept for his own band, one that would feature the sounds of modern jazz with the traditional music he grew up with in Cuba.
Fellow Berklee faculty member and world-renown saxophonist Joe Lovano heard Mela and was immediately impressed, hiring him soon thereafter to play in his quartet. Since 2005, Mela has been an integral part of Joe Lovano’s quartet and his new group “Us Five,” a two-drummer quintet. Their 2009 Blue Note Records recording, titled Folk Art, was considered by many critics to be Lovano’s most adventurous to date.
In 2009, he was tapped by jazz legend McCoy Tyner to join his trio. Said Tyner of his new young drummer, “Mela is just a fantastic player. He has his own style and his own sound, which is what I look for in a drummer.”
Mela’s first CD, Melao was released in 2006 and called one of the best albums of the year by All About Jazz. Similarly, The Village Voice picked Melao as the best debut by an artist of ‘06.
Mela’s second release as a leader, Cirio, was recorded over a week-long period at the Blue Note for Half Note Records in 2008. The recording featured an all-star cast of Mark Turner, Jason Moran, Larry Grenadier and Lionel Loueke. BlogCritics wrote “this is modern jazz of high order, but with Mela's own touch of Havana added...” affirming Mela’s unique niche in the melting pot that is now New York’s “jazz scene.” WDUQ picked the album as one of the best jazz CDs of 2008.
Mela’s latest project, Cuban Safari, is an amalgamation of his favorite bands that inspired him to become a drummer – Miles Davis’ fusion group featuring Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, Weather Report, and the Latin-jazz super group Irakere. On his 2nd release on Half Note, Tree of Life, Mela offers a passionate fusion of Cuban polyrhythms and propulsive modernism. Mela and the full scope of his musicianship take center stage with an unexpected turn as a vocalist, duetting with pianist Elio Villafranca, and trading improvs with Special Guest Esperanza Spalding. Tree Of Life is spirited evidence of Melaʼs distinguished place among young group leaders. The album received critical acclaims by Downbeat, Jazziz, All.about.jazz.com, irockjazz.com among others. It was nominated for “2011 Latin Jazz Boundary Breaking Album” by Latin Jazz Corner, “Recommended release” by New York City Jazz Record and “Newest Best Jazz Takes” by Japan’s Diskunion. Downbeat magazine gave 4 stars to Tree of Life.
“It’s Tree of Life’s compositions and performances that really thrill. At times stoking straightahaed flames, other times seemingly aiming for Mwandishi-like fund and fusion.”
"Tree of Life is a wildly imaginative, expertly played recording; Mela and Cuban Safari illustrate that the future of jazz is indeed now."
-All Music Guide
“To witness the innovative jazz drummer and composer, Francisco Mela, live in action is to stand visually and sonically arrested by his out of this world talent and razor sharp skill born out of a relentless pursuit to elevate his craft. Yes. He’s that good.”
- Johnathan Eaglin, irockjazz.com