Rafael Zaldivar: Consecration (Effendi)

A review of the keyboardist's album that invokes traditional Afro-Cuban spirituality

Rafael Zaldivar
Cover of Consecretion by Rafael Zaldivar

Keyboardist Rafael Zaldivar invokes traditional Afro-Cuban spirituality in both his music and his message, but his thematic scope is far-ranging. His keyboard work is devoid of pyrotechnics; he uses space to create depth, then fills it with precisely articulated arpeggios and single-note punctuations to build a delicate tension. That tension is then dispelled by the broadening of the sonic spectrum to welcome in electric bass (Remi-Jean LeBlanc), percussion (hand drums, Amado Dedeu; traps, Dave Laing) and voices (Dedeu again; on one number, “Ache,” he’s joined by his son, Amado Jr.)—primarily chants and invocations drawn from religious rituals with their roots in Africa. At times, the mewl of Zaldivar’s Mini-Moog adds another element to the mix.

Ambitious, yes, but (mercifully) not pretentious. “A Rock Con Leche,” described as a tribute to James Brown, surges with hard-bop urgency rather than funk; Zaldivar’s synth screams stoke up the heat as Dedeu’s congas accentuate the theme that permeates the set. The piano solos “Manifested Creation,” “Rezos,” and “Eternal Creation” are meditative, even prayerful; “Obatala,” a paean to a Yoruba Orisha, is one of the most modern-sounding offerings here with its throbbing, funk-flavored bassline and impressionistic piano; “Unforgettable” recasts the Nat Cole standard as an elegant, melancholy bolero.

A special nod should be given to guest vocalist Mireille Boily, featured on “When I Think of You” and “Simple Talking” (the latter uncredited in the notes). She sings in unison with Zaldivar’s treble line, negotiating every challenging interval, every quick-paced ascent and descent, every trill, and every complex legato passage with accuracy and unflagging emotional commitment.

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David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.