Taking its name from a forest region in Africa where percussionists formed the basis for Cuban music two hundred years ago, Irakere blends timbales, congas, drum set and the heavily percussive piano of Chucho Valdés with its tight horn section. Vocal chorus, call & response melodic patterns, traditional rhythms, and exciting improvised instrumental solos mark their performances. Valdés, son of pianist and composer Ramon "Bebo" Valdés, was "discovered" by Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan at the 1970 Jazz Jamboree in Poland. He helped organize Irakere in 1973 and assumed its leadership role; more information is available at http://www.bembe.com/afrocubanismo/ .
"La Explosión" takes off with exciting solos by trumpet, electric guitar, and keyboard. "Mr. Bruce" is dedicated to Blue Note’s president Bruce Lundvall, and honors respectively with a clear example of Valdés’ keyboard magic. Although the album presents hot Latin jazz from a percussive Afro-Cuban framework, everything depends on the pianist for a focus. Were Valdés working with an acoustic model, his exemplary performance would surely sound better. However, on Yemayá the leader is working with an electronic keyboard that simply fails to provide the necessary percussive element.