It’s a wonderful thing that Chucho Valdes has found such a healthy outlet for his aggression. Valdes demonstrates a dizzying exuberance at the piano during this 1998 solo date recorded at Lincoln Center's Kaplan Penthouse. Thoroughout the date it sounds like Valdes can barely contain his enthusiasm. Just when Valdes hits a repeating montuno and solicits clapping along from the audience he erupts into a free jazz cadenza ala Cecil Taylor. The clapping very abruptly tapers off.
Valdes displays amazing versatility. During the performance he borrows liberally from the straightforward melodicism of Keith Jarrett, the strum-pum-pum of Chopin polonaises, the gospel soul of Ray Charles and myriad other sources. Most amazingly these eccentrities may all inhabit the same song. These pixilated influences do not dominate his style, however, the massive sound he pastes out of the grand piano does. He beats on the piano more than anybody this side of McCoy Tyner. It’s a credit to both the sound engineers and Valdes that there are points on the album where one can actually hear the metallic reverberation of the piano strings as the hammers slam into them.
Valdes’ rhythmic drive propels the performance. At one point during "Tres Lindas Cubanas" he plays an impressionistic Debussy-like figure in his left hand and than simultaneously plays a montuno in his right hand. That kind of rhythmic bi-polarism betrays his exhaustive experience playing Latin jazz. Much of the time his ideas evolve into a son montuno which he plays to its bursting point. Just as the pretty lyricism of "A Mi Madre" seems to evaporate he comes back in with a "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" type of figure to move things along.
Despite his rhythmic virtuosity, however, two of the strongest performances on the album, "Son" and "Tres Lindas Cubanas" are fairly simple but sexy Cuban melodies that unfold with deliberate pace.
Recommended to fans of solo piano Live in New York shan’t disappoint. Fans of combo jazz may have difficulty listening to the whole performance at once.