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The rain held off and skies cleared just in time for the Chucho Valdés Quintet to delight the audience at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Confederation Park. The group-consisting of Chucho Valdés on piano, Lazaro Alarcon on bass, drummer Juan Carlos Rojas, percussionist Yurali Abreu and vocalist Mayra Caridad Valdés (who appeared later in the set)started the set with an Ellington medley. "Satin Doll" smoothly segued into "In A Sentimental Mood" and then "Caravan." Valdés is a master at his instrument and travels from jazz to classical and further, but never loses the Cuba in his soul. This was clearly demonstrated in the next selection, "Poinciana," which featured a polyrhytmic figure in his left hand and in the drums playing against a delicate melody line in his right hand. The figure was then played by bass and piano behind a dazzling conga solo by Abreu.
The emphasis on rhythm changes is an important part of Valdés' musical perspective. He knows how and when to change rhythms, how to build a solo and ultimately how to build a set to an exciting and driving conclusion. By the time he got to the composition "7/4"an exercise using what sounded like a Cuban folk song played in a 7/4 time signature, the audience was cheering.
It was after this that vocalist Mayra Caridad Valdés appeared and launched into a gutsy rendition of "Besame Mucho" that erased any previous versions of this song. The lady has a wide vocal range, can scat and involves the audience in her performance in a call and response manner. Two songs later, the audience was begging for more. And there was more to come including the encore, "Los Guiros," which displayed how much music can come from the gourds utilized in Latin rhythm sections. Bassist Alarcon and percussionist Abreu, each with gourd in hand, delivered virtuoso performances. In fact, Valdés' three compatriots delivered solid backing and solos during the evening.
So much music came from this group that it was hard sometimes to realize there were only four instrumentalists on stage. But the excitement was on both sides of the footlights with an audience that stayed on their feet applauding long after the last dr