Half in jest, perhaps, Chucho Valdes calls the music he's developing "Cubanglish," a synthesis of Afro-Cuban and American jazz sounds that is unparalleled. On New Conceptions, the sixty year old pianist works with his quartet plus some well-chosen guest artists, in a break from his big band, Irakere; and what you get here is a purer pared-down example of Chucho Valdes' genius.
Valdes combines a technical mastery of his instrument with an exuberant vision as clear as any. He's a keyboardist who can send a bursting bird flock glissando soaring with his right hand while his ground bound left hand nails a percussive beat. incorporating the results into a logically seamless arrangement. He's soloist who can churn along a hair's breadth away from a deconstruction of a melody, without – in breath-taking fashion – doing so. He's a joyous purveyor of a percussive approach without eschewing delicacy or finesse.
New Conceptions opens with "La Camparsa," Valdes pounding out a left handed rhythm figure behind a tart right hand melody, riding over the ever-bubbling percussion. The song closes with a flute solo by Jacinto Joaquin Olivero Galivan that puts a cool sweet frosting on the spicy composition. Valdes's incorporation of his guests on New Conceptions is a big plus: Maylin Sevila Brizuela's too-brief and achingly beautiful cello interlude on the dreamy, Bill Evans-like "Nanu"; Irving Luichel Acao Tierra's fiery tenor sax on Miles Davis's "Solar" – a song that, fifty years after Davis recorded it, still sounds edgy and forward-looking.
Back and forth between the Afro-Cuban and American jazz books, the disc closes with a homage to the Duke, "Homenaje A Ellington," which opens with a jaunty, Latinized "Satin Doll" and changes into a dark, churning "Caravan."
But the essence of the sound of New Conceptions is Chucho Valdes' unrestrained and joyous piano work against Yaroldy Abreu Robless Cuban percussion, a pairing that acts as a foundation for the entire set. There are cautions and hesitations – internal and external – against calling a new music offering a masterpiece or an instant classic. The test of time is required to be sure, but New Conceptions, I think, fits into that category. A sure early top ten disc.