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Chucho Valdes/Irakere: Babalu Aye

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Originally recorded for the Cuban state label Egrem, this disc and the subsequent, and richly compelling Yemaya released by Blue Note last year, marked Chucho Valdes’ Irakere swan song. The ensemble that brought Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, and perhaps most potently, the maestro Chucho Valdes, is now in the capable hands of Valdes’ eldest son, keyboardist Chuchito.

Where Chucho’s influence and hand are most deeply felt on this disc is in the arrangements and the slick production, as this is not necessarily a showcase for his prodigious pianistics. Case in point is the irresistible line “Tres Dias,” which finds Jose Miguel’s clear tenor voice bathed in horn section harmonies that cleverly quote familiar jazz lines. That this is more dance than jazz, more Cuban salsa than improvisation is clear, though the session decidedly deepens when it reaches the title track, featuring the haunting voice of Santero and Yoruban traditionalist Lazaro Ros. As always, the fire is delivered in bracing doses throughout.