This is pianist Chucho Valdés’ long-awaited followup to his landmark 1972 recording Jazz Batá, a trio album—piano, bass, and bata (a drum of Yoruba origin that’s a staple of Cuban Santería rituals)—then considered somewhat radical for its absence of a trap set. Here, Valdés’ compatriots include bassist Yelsy Heredia and two percussionists: Dreiser Durruthy Bombale, who also contributes vocals, and Yaroldy Abreu Robles. Regina Carter’s violin graces two selections, “100 Años de Bebo” and “Ochun.”
Although there are moments of introspection, especially during some of Valdés’ solo piano interludes, the overall mood is celebratory and welcoming. This music feels utterly contemporary, no matter how far into the past (or the future) it may probe. “100 Años de Bebo,” based on a theme that Valdés’s father, bandleader Bebo Valdés, used to play at home, invokes the suave urbanity—and mambo/swing fusion—of Havana’s old Tropicana Club, where Bebo held forth as bandleader and arranger for many years. “Chucho’s Mood” is a musical portmanteau, effortlessly melding genres, generations, and cultural motifs into a new and fully realized whole; there’s even a brief, witty reference to “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
Carter’s linear melodicism on “Ochun” lends the composition a feeling of almost folk-like simplicity. “El Guije” is a little harder-edged, more streetsy in feel, even as Bombale’s vocals, multitracked in a call-and-response pattern, invoke the music’s deepest origins, right down to his trickster-like guffaw at the end. Chucho Valdés may be a “roots man” at heart, but he and his compatriots understand that roots are meaningful only when they nourish something alive and growing.
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