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Duets: Chucho Valdes, Dianne Reeves, and Joe Lovano at 92NY

Duets: Chucho Valdes, Dianne Reeves, and Joe Lovano at 92NY

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

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Chucho Valdes, Dianne Reeves, and Joe Lovano
Thomas L. Kaufmann Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y
Duets
New York, NY
May 16, 2024

A supergroup can be as much a treat for the players as for its listeners. Saxophonist Joe Lovano, singer Dianne Reeves, and pianist Chucho Valdes seemed as jazzed—so to speak—about their summit meeting as were their noisy, enthusiastic audience at the wood-paneled Thomas L. Kaufmann Concert Hall at New York's 92nd Street Y

Smiles and compliments flowed freely between them, and there was even a little dancing—in the form of charming soft shoe and soulful hand motions by Lovano when he was listening rather than playing.

As with many all-star assemblages, the trio's repertoire leaned to standards, yet their ninety-minute set was no freewheeling jam session. Rather, the three presented a precise yet relaxed program of duets, along with a handful of trio performances.

The group has a little history. As Reeves told WBGO in a recent interview, Valdes invited her and Lovano to collaborate with him some years ago. The three have continued to get together from time to time, including for the series of May dates, mostly in the Northeast, that brought them to 92NY. Given the trio's genesis, and its instrumental lineup, it was hardly a surprise that Valdes played on every piece. He exuded the commanding air of an amiable musical director, and his distinctive gifts were on full display from the solo piece that opened the show.

Valdes is a symphonic player given to ambitious and complex structures that, by turns, exhibit the tumbling eccentricity of Thelonious Monk and the dancing polyrhythms of his Cuban musical heritage. When Lovano joined him for a half-hour of duos, though, the 82-year-old pianist also demonstrated the restraint of a sensitive accompanist.

Valdes maintained an unerring rhythmic pulse beneath the saxophonist, even on the ballads that dominated their set, and proved to be a careful listener who sometimes echoed phrases in the sax solos. Lovano was in fine form, playing, as ever, with thoughtfulness and a beautiful sense of sonic architecture. But Valdes is hard to upstage, even by one of the best tenorists of our time, and his piano solos were the highlights of the mini-set.

Some especially jaw-dropping examples of the Cuban's creativity arrived in his final selection with Lovano, an up-tempo piece with a labyrinthine theme the two musicians played in unison. In Valdes' full solo, a routine start quickly escalated to crashing chords and lightning runs from his right hand, supported by dancing support from his left—a combination that elicited astonished applause before the solo even ended. After Lovano returned, he and Valdes traded fours, with the pianist's successive interludes rising in complexity to culminate in spiraling stop-time excursions. Somehow, Valdes avoided having this virtuosity unbalance the piece or drive it to excess.

Reeves' half-hour with Valdes was a cozier affair. Seated next to the piano, cabaret-style, she demonstrated her peerlessness at romantic ballads—a skill she struts at her annual Valentine's Day shows at the city's leading jazz halls. Reeves caressed the lyrics in her silky mezzo-soprano— sometimes stretching the end of the lines, as in the prolonged "sssssss" that concluded "the passion of a kiss" in "My Foolish Heart." There was also a playful "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" and a gorgeous lullaby in Spanish. Lovano joined the two for a final handful of trio numbers, beginning with a burbling "Caravan," with Reeves scatting—another of her signature talents—and Valdes rolling out yet another dazzling and rococo solo. A bilingual "Besame Mucho" brought forth an especially expressive and restrained solo from Lovano. A superlative, set-closing Footprints kicked off with a Lovano- Reeves duo passage—the only one of the night—and concluded with a gentle sax-scat-singing duel between the two.

The trio set, especially, underlined how three jazz masters with unerring time and exceptional musical chemistry not only need no rhythm section, but almost make you forget that most bands even have one.

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