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Bebo Valdés/Javier Colina: Live at the Village Vanguard

Cuban pianist and elder statesman Bebo Valdés recently marked his 90th birthday by defying the odds and continuing on an illustrious career path that includes a prolific output of studio and live recordings as well as performances, celebrating in 2008 the successful million-selling masterpiece Bebo y Cigala. Well beyond his second wind, the gentle and iconic figure of Afro-Cuban music exudes a warmth and confidence that match his charismatic style and elegance on the piano; he speaks to the listener through the sparkle of his smile and the radiance of his touch without the need to overstate anything.

This live recording from the Village Vanguard in 2005, featuring Valdés alongside bassist Javier Colina, resembles a fireside chat among old and trusted friends, spanning decades of classic Latin American and Caribbean pieces as well as a few jazz standards and several of Valdés’ originals in an intimate setting that makes the listener feel like a welcome guest in the Valdés living room. Timeless classics such as “Sabor a Mí,” “Siboney,” “Aquellos Ojos Verdes” and “Tres Palabras” are serenely and masterfully treated, inserting moments of crisp brilliance into a gracefully subdued conversation between Valdés and Colina.

The pianist dusted off several originals that had not been recorded since his big band days, including “Con Poco Coco” and “Ritmando el Cha-cha-chá,” and gets busy with a boogie-woogie left hand on the joyful tune “Bebo’s Blues” while exuding a quiet tenderness on the Bill Evans classic “Waltz for Debby,” the album closer. This is a recording that reflects the extraordinary life and breadth of a very special human being. It is a testament to Valdés’ longevity, to his love for all the world’s music and to his perseverance. Above all else, Live at the Village Vanguard gives hope to all musicians who may be feeling the onset of aging and reminds them that music is more than a career; it is a life worth living.

Originally Published