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‘Jazz Batá 2’ by Chucho Valdés

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Saturday November 10, 2018

From The Wall Street Journal

‘Jazz Batá 2’ by Chucho Valdés and ‘The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions’ Reviews
By: Larry Blumenfeld

Mr. Valdés has never lost sight of the influences of Cachao and of his own father, Bebo, who were childhood friends in Cuba—nor of American musicians that inspired generations of Cubans (he quotes Ellington and Gershwin on “Chucho’s Mood”). There are other lines to be drawn: Oscar Valdés (no relation), who was a 13-year-old bongo player at that first 1956 Panart descarga, played batá, the two-headed drums of Afro-Cuban rituals, on “Jazz Batá,” the 1972 album with which Mr. Valdés introduced the approach he furthers here. (Both musicians were founding members of Irakere, the group with which Chucho achieved a yet grander musical revolution.)

The depth and breadth of Chucho Valdés’s pianism evokes deep roots while encompassing much that the Panart musicians (and his father) couldn’t have imagined, such as the avant-gardist improvisations on “Son XXI.” For all his gifts as a pianist, Mr. Valdés’s primary instruments have always been his bands. Here, his quartet—with bassist Yelsy Heredia, percussionist Yaroldy Abreu Robles, and Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé on batá and vocals—is a wondrous vehicle, elegantly navigating even the surprising twists and turns of Mr. Valdés’s suite-like “Obatalá.” Violinist Regina Carter plays to lovely effect on two tracks, including “100 Años de Bebo,” honoring the centenary of Chucho’s father, who died in 2013.

Cachao, who died in 2008, was also born 100 years ago. Chucho recently turned 77. Grounded in traditions he first soaked up sitting alongside Bebo on the piano bench at Havana’s Tropicana nightclub (not long before those Panart sessions), emboldened by a mastery that now seems offhand and still brimming with subversive musical ideas, Chucho ensures that such legacies are neither lost nor frozen in time.

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