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December 2000

Chucho Valdes
Live at the Village Vanguard
Blue Note Records

After decades leading the Afro-Cuban jazz band Irakere, Chucho Valdes emerged as a solo performer, taking him to inspired musical heights. Since signing with Blue Note Records in 1993, the acclaimed Cuban pianist, composer, bandleader and educator has been nominated twice for Grammy Awards. Now Live at the Village Vanguard once again captures the 58-year-old pianistic prodigy at his creative and physical best.

With a youthful, powerhouse trio of Francisco Rubio Pampin (acoustic bass), Raul Pineda Roque (trap drums) and Roberto Vizca¡no Guillot (conga and bata drums), Valdes transculturizes jazz with an energy that pays reverence to the masters as well as his own Afro-Cuban heritage. With a technical facility comparable to giants like Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, he offers originals and interpretative works with varied tempo and texture and the awe-striking Valdes touch.

The disc opens with an upbeat groover, "Anabis," that paves a path to such highlights as a beautiful danzon version of "My Funny Valentine," the Afro-Latino lullaby "Drume Negrita," sung by Valdes' sister Mayra Caridad Valdes, a homage "To Bud Powell" and an encore tribute to Vanguard owner Lorraine Gordon ("Lorraine's Habanera"). But Valdes also reverses the jazz process and transforms traditional pieces like "Punto Cubano" and "Como Traigo la Yuca" into suave bebop salsa. Overall, a refreshing, fun Latin jazz romp that swings with virtuosity.

Originally published in December 2000
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