Jes?s "Chuchito" Vald?s, Jr. with Laksar Reese: Encantado (2001)
The recording merges original compositions with standards from Cuban and jazz music. It opens with 'Homenaje Bebo,' as a showcase for Vald's, Jr.'s chops, with a brief and somewhat stunted conga drum flair in the middle of the tune. The horn arrangement offered some interestingly unexplored sonorities left behind in lieu of displaying an excited piano playing bordering on technical excess. Perhaps 'Homenaje Bebo' is as good a prototype as any to discuss some issues rarely talked about in critical assessments of Latin Jazz recordings, as well as Encantado itself.
Due to the way in which contemporary Cuban musicians have developed, there is a marked tendency for them to shine, whichever way they can, in order to have the opportunity to leave their beleaguered island looking for better opportunities abroad. Often times, such a need for overshadowing the local islander competition leads many musicians to favor certain mannerisms, styles, and musical idiomatic expressions popular among foreign audiences. Such accommodation, in turn, leads to the cloning of players, a process most obviously present among Cuban pianists and percussionists. Most present-day timbaleros in Cuba, for example, exhibit symptoms of 'changuitis' as many are virtually indistinguishable from Jos' Luis Quintana, a.k.a. 'Changuito' . 'Chucho,' father of 'Chuchito', however, provides the piano mold, in large, albeit not exclusive, measure. Hence, the difficulties faced by someone like Vald's, Jr. who had to face such a 'mold' on more fronts than most. Vald's, Jr., as well as his father, can say what few can or could say, although some times some things are better left unsaid or, even better, said with more economical expressions.
'Bolero in Chicago' is a Windy City inspired composition by Vald's, Jr. that allows him to delve into the realm of a romantic rhythmic aesthetic that never becomes mushy or testicular. It features a well-groomed arrangement that lends itself to the capable contributions of saxophonist Laksar Reese who here exhibits a clear-toned sound and a tidy outlook that blends well with Vald's, Jr. He also co-produced the date and co-arranged a couple of tunes.
'Andariego' is the first Reese/Vald's, Jr. compositional collaboration. Therein the trumpet finds a more prominent supportive role for Reese's soloing, and challenges Reese with a tighter solo, although it will be sorely missed during the rest of the recording. Unfortunately, the guajeo call went unheeded by the conga drummer who could have otherwise made a more varied statement rather than merely yield to yet another piano solo. Having said that, Vald's, Jr. does offer quite a treat in this tune.
'Son Cha Cha Cha' is a suavely driving tune, whereupon Vald's, Jr. overplays a bit and Reese introduces an amenable swirling flute. There is also a brief heavy handed tumbadora interlude.
'Guaguanco/Montuno' passes as the mandatory equivalent to a jam session, although framed within an initial foray into the popular Afro-Cuban guaguanc' rhythm, which is part of the rumba lineage. It gives way to a jazzed up montuno sans jam at which point Vald's, Jr. builds up momentum with what might be his best work on this recording. Reese's solo, however, does not take the tune to its next level and just couldn't quite catch up to Vald's, Jr. who promptly comes to his rescue. There are some dizzy moments, or mareos, in the percussive end of the tune in which Reese seeks a final redemption.
In the Strayhorn derived 'Impressions of 'Take the A Train,'' Vald's, Jr. is alone and displays some of his jazzistic knowledge, although at a frenetic pace that eclipses some intriguing possibilities to be had in some hints interspersed throughout the tune.
Coltrane's 'Giant Steps' follows in a 6/8 Afro-Cuban format. Reese takes the lead this time in better shape than before, albeit relying in a slurring voice that still clamors for further precision rather than swiftness. Midway through the composition, the group switches into mainstream jazz shores with Vald's, Jr. taking off with the acoustic bass behind him. The mid transition is decidedly the best part of this tune.
'Danza de los Gigantes' offers Reese, in his second compositional collaboration with Vald's, Jr., the chance to be somewhat free although there is not enough time for us to know how much freedom he can handle and what he can do with it'
The recording closes with a Cuban classic entitled 'Tres lindas Cubanas.' Vald's, Jr. cannot err with its lovely melody, nor can Reese's flute while butterflying around the piano's inviting and sustained Cubanness, or cuban'a. This is where 'Chuchito' pours what 'Bebo,' 'Chucho,' and the interminable list of Cuban piano virtuosos have prepared. Unfortunately, the mix in this tune favors the piano and a timbale solo sounds even more distant than an accompanying ch'kere. The notion that a guest artist or leader needs to be mixed on top, so to speak, is a failed one as it affects the overall sound of both performances and recordings.
There are also a couple of rough and abrupt transitions between a couple of tunes that were rather unnecessary mastering errors in this otherwise worthy date.
Contact: For more information, visit Town Crier Recordings .
Track Listing: 1. Homenaje Bebo 2. Bolero en Chicago 3. Andariego 4. Son Cha Cha Cha 5. Guaguanco/Montuno 6. Impressions of ?Take the A Train? 7. Giant Steps 8. Danza de los Gigantes 9.Tres lindas Cubanas
Personnel: Acoustic bass (7)-Jonathon Paul. Congas-Frankie Ocasio, Carlos Quintos (vocals). Drums-Javier Gonzales (1, 2, 9 & timbales, maracas) Jos? Ormaza. Electric bass, percussion-Hector Silveira. Piano, bata, clave-Chuchito Vald?s Jr. Saxophones, flute-Laksar Reese. Trumpet, flugelhorn-Tito Carillo.
Record Label: Town Crier