Chucho Valdés With Kenny Garrett At SFJAZZ

Harry S. Pariser By

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Chucho Valdés and Kenny Garrett
San Francisco, CA
October 4, 2019

A commanding Cuban pianist, the stately Chucho Valdes is best known as the founder of legendary Cuban band Irakere. Kenny Garrett has played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and with the late Miles Davis, among others, but has gained notoriety for his work as a solo artist. Since his first recording in 1990, his awards and accolades have steadily piled up.

Put these two together with a batá drummer and a bassist and drummer, and you have the recipe for a memorable evening. As part of a four-night stint at SFJAZZ, Valdés teamed up with the ebullient Garrett, and the results were exhilarating as expected. Valdés plowed down the keyboard, lyrically and subtly but also rapidly.

First up was "Mambo Influenciado," a Valdés classic. Bassist Ramón Vazquez Martirena gave his all, while dashiki-clad drummer Yaroldy Abrey Robles added shekere to the mix. A lovely piano solo introduced ""Son XXI"; shekere by Robles added tone mix, and batá drummer Dreiser Durruthy Bambelé chanted. Fiesta-like piano made "La Guajira" soar. "My Foolish Heart" began with piano and güiro as Valdés geared up to construct walls of sound.

Then, the black-suited Garrett was introduced, with the first number, appropriately named "One For Kenny." Garrett bobbed his head and moved his feet as he expounded. The charging ahead tune "El Güije," which followed, is a Valdés composition inspired by a mythical (and thus elusive) Cuban creature said to reside in ponds and rivers. These small, black, grotesque-featured beasts, which are varyingly either naked or covered with vines, frighten travelers at night who are alarmed by its bulging eyes and otherworldly appearance. The piece featured saxophone and drum interplay as well as plenty of piano.

The lively "Lo Guiros," included in the evening's repertoire at the suggestion of Garrett, was the encore and brought plenty of piano riffs, shekere and lively saxophone.

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