Chucho Valdes: The Music Never Ends
The number that lends its name to the album and closes it, an unconcealed tribute to John Coltrane and to a classic also poetically related to the stimuli of Valdés' recent work: "Well, 'Giant Steps' is a chord progression that is uncomfortable to improvise, it wasn't a usual progression in Coltrane's time. In our case, I think we have a beautiful progression here that is also a maze. There are 50 bars that never repeat themselves and that sound the same. Even I, and I am the one who wrote it, have a hard time going over it and trying to play it smoothly."
It's been nearly two months since Spain became the World Champion, and it can now be said that Chucho's Steps have trodden all five continents. How was his work received live? Speaking from aipei, on his way to Macao, Valdés' answers: "The concert has nothing to do with what was happening in July," he answers. "The group is much more cohesive, the music flows easily and even I am surprised. I truly believe that this is one of my richest stages." Two days later, in Macao and on the way to Australia, Valdés had been up all night to compose a new piece, "Rumba pa Julián." "It is a typical Cuban rumba that becomes a blues, but with unusual harmonies, and ends in a guaguancó." In Macao on September 1, 2010, Valdés premiered the new piece that will be included in the repertoire, and he was elated after discovering how it sounded with the group: "You have to know the history of Afro-Cuban music and jazz very well to play this rumba, and it came out as I expected."
The near future includes more trips: a spectacular and highly anticipated U.S. tour (October 9November 1) and a dozen concerts in Europe in the fall, including two Spanish dates: Barcelona (Palau de la Música, November 17)where Valdés will also be the protagonist of his first blindfold test for DownBeat Magazineand Zaragoza (Auditorio, November 20). The USA is, of course, one of the key objectives for Valdés, who has not played there since the end of 2003. "I know the expectations are high and I am also curious to see how the public and critics welcome me." Without belittling the others, the three New York dates are very special to him: 22 and 23 October at the Allen Room in Lincoln Center, and a single date on November 1, in the quartet format, at the Village Vanguard, the legendary club of his friend Lorraine Gordon, who considers Valdés simply as a genius.
At the beginning of October, Valdés will welcome Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Havana, on their first visit to Cuba. "We will do two shows together, one with my band and the Lincoln Center Orchestra, and one with a smaller group with Wynton's musicians and with me as a guest." For the first concert, Valdés has rewritten his famous Misa Negra. "It's a big band version that I wrote during the tour, flying from one place to another and without a piano." According to Valdés, "it is a premiere, because this version is very different," with changes affecting for instance "all the original Yoruba chants" and with new trumpet parts "written especially for Wynton."
About to turn 70 and from across the world, Valdés changes roles and asks: "What did you see in the summer festivals? What happened in Newport? Who has been playing in New York lately? Are there any new albums that are worthwhile?" The answer is that it's hard to find musicians of his age with such a passion for music, alwaysand stillwilling to buy records. Doesn't Valdés get tired? "God, that will never happen. I remember when I was 19 I had a bet. Bebo had just left Cuba and I worked as a pianist at the Teatro Martí, which was then managed by Emilio Peñalver. During the interval, which was from 6 to 9 in the afternoon, I used to go with Emilio del Monte [drummer in Valdés' first groups] to the descargas, the jam sessions. The other musicians, who were older than us, used to say to us that we did that because we were young; they would bet their lives that when we were their age we would be tired of so much music. I felt very sad and I wondered if it was true that as you got older your desire to listen to music would die. Well, look at me; I'm about to turn 69 and, for me, that is all a lie. I am the same; my passion for learning and discovering things has even increased. Music never ends."
All Photos: Alejandro Pérez
Translated from Spanish by Manel Vanaclocha