Put the force of McCoy Tyner, the superhuman keyboard agility of Art Tatum, and the delicacy of Erroll Garner into a 6-foot-4 Cuban-born frame, and you'll get Jesus "Chucho" Valdes, one of the greatest piano players on the planet. For three decades, Valdes led the Cuban superband Irakere, with Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. But in the last few years, Valdes has been spotlighting his pianistic prowess in small combos such as the quartet he led during a spirited stint at the legendary Village Vanguard in 1999. Backed by a young group of Cuban musicians–drummer Raul Pineda Roque, percussionist Roberto Vizcaino Guillot, and bassist Franciso Rubio Pampin–Valdes turns the piano into a hurricane of melody, harmony and rhythm.
Issued just after his landmark two-week June 1998 gig at the Village Vanguard and subsequent U.S./Canada tour, Chucho Valdйs' first album for Blue Note bears out a lot of the hype surrounding this hugely gifted Cuban pianist. Unlike many of today's younger Cuban keyboard hotshots, Valdйs not only has great technical chops and musical erudition, he manages to stay closely tied to his Cuban rhythmic roots. Thus, he employs a Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaino Guillot along with the standard bass (Alain Pйrez Rodriguez) and drums (Raъl Pнсeda Roque), which dramatically increases the possibilities for rhythmic experiments. Valdes more often than not is all over the keyboard, comfortable with everything from Ravel-ian classical complexity to Bill Evans' introspection to Cecil Taylor-like crunches.
Chucho Valdes, Cuba's most famous jazz musician, has rebalanced the repertoire of his Afro-Cuban Messengers on Border-Free, mixing its American-jazz agenda (the group's name deliberately references both Valdes' roots and the late Art Blakey's classic soul-bop Jazz Messengers group) with more extended Latin-American input, and some Native American and Andalusian connections, too. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis, guesting on three tracks, is warmly romantic on tenor on the loping Tabu, agile and fluent on the Cuban dance-shuffle Bebo, and mercurial on a soprano-sax break full of north African microtonalisms on the hurtling, horn-hooting finale, Abdel.
This is a reissue of some of Cuban piano master Chucho Valdes's earliest Havana recordings in 1964 (almost a decade before he founded the legendary Irakere), embracing the debut of the great Cuban saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera. It has been gathering dust for decades. There are 27 short tracks, most of them following the formalities of traditional Cuban dance styles, and many of the solos are barely longer than a chorus or two - which throws the emphasis on to the historical interest of the materials, rather than the spontaneities of the players.
Chucho Valdés is at the top of his game here, on Tribute to Irakere (Live in Marciac). There is a visceral excitement in the performance, where the music is played in the idiomatic vein of Irakere. This means the creation of an attractive, edifying atmosphere in Marciac with the celebrated collision of African polyrhythms together with a polyphony born of Cuban folk forms that Chucho Valdés is so well known for adapting to his electrifying style.
This early solo effort (made available on CD by Messidor) by trumpeter Arturo Sandoval was recorded in Madrid, Spain a few years before his defection from Cuba. Sandoval really lets loose on the six selections (five originals plus "A Night in Tunisia"), showing off his tremendous technique and his ability to play rapid lines. The high-powered music (which also features pianist Hilario Duran and guitarist Jorge Chicoy) may turn some listeners off due to its ferocity and lack of space, but one cannot help but be impressed by Sandoval's talents.
The pairing of Afro-Majorcan vocalist Concha Buika and Afro-Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés has apparently been a long time coming. But they are here together on this lovely recording, featuring songs from a wide variety of composers, in a handful of duets, or with the Valdés' band backing them. El Ultimo Trago – translated as "The Last Drink" – is as much a tribute to Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, a major influence on Buika. She's a passionate singer with a dusky, slightly raspy, thin, and gritty voice, but she sure can belt out a song like a great blues singer, or Cape Verdean contemporary Césaria Evora. While coming from the land of flamenco, this music retains the son quality of Afro-Cuban music, in great part due to the professional expertise Valdés adds to the musical arrangements, not necessarily the lyric content…