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Chucho Valdes: Solo – Live in New York

Most jazz-related discussions about Cuban music rightly and effusively celebrate its African component. Cuban music would be impoverished without it. Yet it is a mistake to undervalue Cuban music’s Spanish roots, not just in terms of folk-dance forms, like the bolero, but in the pedagogy that has made Cuba a hothouse for virtuoso musicians as well. The latter is clearly traceable in the synthesis of passion and precision projected by the best Cuban jazz pianists, regardless of ancestry. Arguably, there are fewer than six degrees of separation between a Chucho Valdes and an Alicia de Lorrocha. Valdes’ latest CDs, Solo-Live In New York and Unforgettable Boleros, are a reminder that it is the bicultural nature of Cuban music that gives it its vitality.

The Spanish tinge is very much in evidence on the typically dazzling Solo-Live In New York. Play the sparklingly lyrical three-minute opener, “A Mi Madre,” for a blindfolded Spanish-music aficionado, and the names of local heroes like Chano Dominguez and Inaki Salvador would probably crop up much sooner than Valdes. Only the second half of the piece, which splices traditionally florid references to “Guantanamera” with spellbinding Tatumesque asides, gives Valdes away. Valdes initially tackles a vintage ’20s danzon, “Tres Lindas Cubanas,” not with the earthiness of Sexteto Habanero’s classic recording, but with a parlor recital rectitude that is only shaken off with some of his most spectacular pyrotechnics.

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