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Efflorescent Pianism At Birdland

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Saturday May 13, 2017

From Downbeat Magazine

Valdés Puts Efflorescent Pianism on Display at Birdland
By: Ted Panken

Most 75-year-olds residing in Miami, Florida, aspire to a comfortable retirement. Not so for master pianist-composer Chucho Valdés, who keeps homes there and in Malaga, Spain, with his wife and 10-year-old son, while sustaining a busy touring schedule in various contexts. One of those contexts is his virtuoso quartet—comprised of the bassist Gastón Joya, drummer Rodney Barreto and percussionist Yaroldy Abreu Robles, all young veterans of Irakere, which Valdés founded in Cuba during the ’60s. That group, which in 2016 released the album Tribute to Irakere (Live in Marciac) (Jazz Village), entered Manhattan’s Blue Note on May 9 for a six-night engagement, after playing the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival two days before.

On May 10, Valdés opened the first set by unleashing his incomparably efflorescent chops on “Conga-Danza,” which the maestro composed during the 1970s and recorded both on Tribute To Irakere and the 2013 combo album Border Free. After a bravura opening section in which Valdés and the drummers operated in jaw-dropping synchronicity, Valdés launched a kaleidoscopic declamation, in which he built to volcanic peaks, scaled down to a simmering rubato solo section, and re-ascended to a fierce montuno, before giving it to the drummers, who improvised over the form as one voice.

There followed “Punto Cubano,” Valdés’ refraction of a rural, son-like Cuban folk song into the Latin-jazz context. Switching off between mezzo delicacy and forte declarations, Valdés developed the pungent melody, juxtaposing vertiginous double-time passages with block chords as Abreu Robles’ accompanied on a small shaker. Joya’s no-limits bass solo sustained the intensity.

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