His quartet and guests give Chucho Valdïs an eclectic atmosphere through which he parades his enthusiasm for American jazz and traditional Cuban music. His heavy piano tirades provide the kind of strength that is needed when one pumps up the volume with Latin percussionists in abundance right and left. Soloists from Irakere share the spotlight this time out, and Valdïs creates evolving scenery in which each can improvise freely. Even the straight-ahead “Solar,” with its familiar melody and typical mainstream action, receives the personal touch of a piano wizard who’s been compared favorably to virtuoso Art Tatum. While Valdïs lists his piano influences as McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans, there’s no question that he’s absorbed it all in his quest to combine jazz with Afro-Cuban cultures.
What Valdïs does with “Caravan” serves as the high point of New Conceptions. He explores this timeless exotic gem with natural ease and fire in his eyes. The quartet explodes with percussive expression of adventure. Much of the album, however, lacks the kind of spark that he’s issued previously. In his wish to introduce young Cuban jazz artists, Valdïs has refrained from astonishing the listener with take-control keyboard epithets. Instead, he keeps his piano statements to a minimum and brings his not-so-promising guests forward for their brief introductions.
“Sin Clave Pero Con Swing” (without guests) returns to the quartet-only formula. Here, the group achieves what has been the U.S. focus of attention for the 62-year-old Cuban pianist. The quartet is alive and eager for the action that this music dictates.
In the early 1970s with Irakere, Valdïs introduced Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’Rivera to the world. He preferred to remain behind the spotlight. Then, in the late ‘90s, both Irakere and Valdïs received Blue Note exposure that has led to a wider understanding of Cuba’s giant bandleader and pianist. New Conceptions won’t turn many heads; however, this pianist’s superb artistry can never be overlooked.
Track Listing: La Comparsa, You Don't Know What Love Is, Los Guiros, Nanu, Solar, Sin Clave Pero Con Swing,
Homenaje A Ellington