Latin jazz’s premiere quartet issues yet another skillful interpretation of Ellingtoniana, straight-ahead jazz and blues tenets – as well as Afro-Cuban music – in a compact, exhilarating release. Jesïs “Chucho” Valdïs is at what might be the zenith of his career, as his chops ably attest. New Conceptions features the usual muscularity, intensity and intellectual reach of the pianist’s Blue Note releases. This time he’s expounding upon them in a small group setting produced by Renï Lïpez, whose musical career should be better documented and honored in its own right.
Tempting and fertile reinterpretations of “Satin Doll,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” and “Caravan” characterize the closing “Homenaje A Ellington.” The advanced harmonic and rhythmic jazz structure underlying this medley is as good a marker as any in the recording to highlight the evolved musical dialogue among the members of the quartet – as well as various opportune guest spots. Not everyone can hang with Chucho, but the supporting cast engages in fine ensemble playing, as well as nifty soloing. Valdïs legendary attributes are inevitably evident, however.
Valdïs’ arranging, composing and playing are both overwhelming and terminal in nature, scope and form. The material on New Conceptions, for example, will not be reinterpreted by anyone anywhere at an equal or superior level, even if one could muster players able, interested – or even willing – to endeavor in such a venture. Valdïs’ presence, both musically and physically, is so strong that most of what happens around him shines while simulataneously paling as giants cast long shadows even over the brightest lights. There are plenty of good reasons for the pianist's dominance among his peers during the last 30 years or so. Most of them are shown rather clearly on this record.