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Chucho Valdes & the Afro-Cuban Messengers: Chucho's Steps

Jerry D'Souza By

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The odyssey of pianist Chucho Valdés has been well documented from his early days in Cuba playing in his father Bebo's Sabor de Cuba Orchestra to the founding of Irakere and on to new pastures as he infused fresh blood into Latin music and jazz. Valdez has never been fettered; his ideas are constantly evolving, finding avenues that give his music broad scope. He filters the narrowest of nooks and fills them with his majestic vision. He is truly a giant who has extended the boundaries of jazz with a presence that locks into the larger context as a pianist, a band leader and composer.

Valdés versatility shines resplendently on this CD. His compositions use a wide canvas on which he splashes a whirl of colors that spin headily or mark open spaces with deep daubs. The whole comes into sharp focus in his approach to the piano. Brimming with ideas that seem to swoop out with every touch of the keys, he can open a flood gate or lay back and play a temperate and soulful refrain.

The electrifying "Zawinul's Mambo" characterizes the ambit in which Valdés ingrains a myriad of concepts into one body. The melody makes the first impact saturated with the nectar of Valdés' notes as the beat is punctuated by percussionist Yaroldy Abreu Robles. It all opens up when Reynaldo Melián Álvarez (trumpet) jumps in all sharp, yet succulent. The dynamics change as jazz harmony sweeps in on the inventions of Carlos Miyares Hernández (tenor saxophone) and sets Valdés up for more affirming interlocutions and emphatic chord work.

"Julián" moves in several idioms. The hymnal introduction is soothed into a warm cocoon by Hernández and Álvarez before the latter switches with alacrity into the blues and fills it with yearning. Hernández expounds on the mood, nestling it deeper into the heart of emotion. And then comes Valdés letting the hosanna of the blues rise in glory, making the soul leap for joy.

"Danzón" seamlessly incorporates several movements. Opening as a ballad on the piano and saxophone, it is riveted into a percussive bar room jig on the piano and then moved into waltz time. If that was not enough, they find time to cha cha as well. The impulse is gorgeous no matter which way the groove goes.

This is another master work from the genius of Chucho Valdés.

Track Listing: Las dos caras; Danzón; Zawinul's Mambo; Begin To Be Good; New Orleans; Yansá; Julián; Chucho's Steps.

Personnel: Chucho Valdés: piano; Carlos Manuel Miyares Hernández: tenor saxophone; Reinaldo Melián Álvarez: trumpet; Lázaro Rivero Alarcón: bass; Juan Carlos Rojas Castro: drums; Yaroldy Abreu Robles: percussion; Dreiser Durruthy Bambolé; batá drums, vocals; Mayra Caridad Valdés: vocals.

Title: Chucho's Steps | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Four Quarters Entertainment

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