Chucho Valdés Brings A Taste Of Cuba To Jazz

Piano virtuoso's explosive sound captured live on upcoming album.

On his forthcoming album, Live at the Village Vanguard (April 10),

Cuban pianist Jesus "Chucho"

Valdés infuses jazz standards with traditional Cuban

rhythms and textures.

"It's Afro-Cuban jazz — Latin jazz, if you will — that draws from

standard repertoire," Valdés said. " 'My Funny Valentine' is done in a

danzon style, and we continue to find interesting fusions with

American standards and traditional Cuban rhythms."

With a technical facility comparable to piano masters

COLOR=#003163">Art Tatum and

COLOR=#003163">Oscar Peterson, Valdés, 58, is at

his artistic peak. He's been a legend in Cuba since the early '70s, when he

formed his first trio with bassist Carlos Del

Puerto and trap drummer

COLOR=#003163">Enrique Pla, the nucleus for the

pioneering Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble


Spawned from La Orquesta Cubana de

Musica Moderna (The Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music)

— an elite orchestra organized in the '60s by the cultural arm of the

Cuban government — Irakere included later solo stars saxophonist

Paquito D'Rivera and

trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.

The group's 1973 debut album revolutionized Afro-Caribbean jazz. Yet

while most prominent members of the ensemble defected from the socialist

island nation, Valdés remained behind.

But because of relaxed rules governing Cuban artists visiting the U.S.,

Valdés has been able to perform in the States frequently. His band

on Live at the Village Vanguard includes bassist

COLOR=#003163">Francisco Rubio Pampin, trap drummer

Raúl Pineda Roque

and conguero Roberto Vizcaíno

Guillót, young Cubans who are fusing traditional music

with new sounds.

Most of the disc's nine tunes, such as the riveting "Anabis" (


dio excerpt), are Valdés originals. An exception is "Punto

Cubano," the rural guajira from eastern Cuba, written by

COLOR=#003163">Celina Gonzales, which Valdés

transforms into a suave salsa bebop tune. His sister

COLOR=#003163">Mayra Caridad Valdés joins him

on the Afro-Latino lullaby "Drume Negrita."

"To Bud Powell" (


>RealAudio excerpt), Valdés' homage to the great bebop

pianist, may raise some eyebrows.

"That's a very personal piece," Valdés said. "It was a homage to him

but not played in his style. It's a Caribbean Bud Powell. There's a link

between clave and swing that bebop pianists understood, like Powell

and Ray Bryant, who wrote

'Cubano Chant.' "

For his current tour, Valdés has been trying out new musicians: "I'm

searching out new ideas and trying to refresh myself a bit. It's still a quartet,

but it's a whole new lineup coming in, with the exception of my sister Mayra,

who continues as a featured vocalist with us."

Valdés is in New York with his father, the renowned mambo-era

pianist and bandleader Bebo

Valdés, working on a film about the evolution of Latin

jazz. Chucho Valdés would not divulge any details, but as member

of the organizing committee for the upcoming Smithsonian Institution touring

exhibition "Jazz en Clave," he is building a bridge that reminds us what an

important Cuban connection jazz has at the trunk of its root.

Chucho Valdés tour dates:

April 1; Tacoma, Wash ; Great Aunt Stellas

April 4–9; New York, N.Y.; Blue Note

April 11; Princeton, N.J.; McCarter Theater

April 13; Huntington, W.V.; Marshall University

April 17–22; Tokyo, Japan; Blue Note

April 28; Boulder, Colo.; Boulder Theater

May 1; Irvine, Calif.; Irvine Barclay Theater

May 2–7; Oakland, Calif.; Yoshi's

May 8; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Kuumbwa Jazz Center

June 10; Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian Institution, Baird Auditorium

June 12; Clinton, N.Y.; Wellin Hall

June 17; Highland Park, Ill.; Ravinia Jazz Festival

July 29; Katonah, N.Y.; Caramoor Festival

July 31–August 1; Stanford, Calif.; Dinkelspiel Auditorium

Aug. 2; Hollywood, Calif.; Hollywood Bowl

Aug. 5; Portland, Ore.; Mt. Hood Jazz Festival