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Concert Review: Chucho Valdés, Pedrito Martinez & Wynton Marsalis @ JALC

The puzzle pieces, not the puzzle

Percussionists and vocalists, l. to r.: Clemente Medina, Roman Diaz and Pedrito Martinez, JALC, NYC, 9-14
JALC Orchestra w/ Wynton Marsalis, special guest percussionists and vocalists Clemente Medina, Roman Diaz and Pedrito Martinez, and vocalists Amma Dawn McKen and Denise Ola DeJean, JALC, NYC, 9-14
Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, JALC, NYC, 9-14

Everybody’s always concerned with the whole. The big picture. The end result. But sometimes it’s the parts that are the most interesting, and such was the case at Jazz at Lincoln Center on September 19, when the New York institution premiered a coming together of pianist Chucho Valdés, vocalist-percussionist Pedrito Martinez and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. (The evening was the middle night of a three-night run for the piece.) This is not to downplay what happened in general; just about all of the music worked, and one left the performance having taken in something special and entertaining. But it was the puzzle pieces, not the puzzle, that left the deepest impression.

But first a bit about the game. The concert-length piece, “Ochas,” combines jazz and Cuban music-both Valdés, 72, and Martinez, 41, are Cuban-and the sounds were presented in two parts. The 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra-piano, bass, drums, five saxophones, three trombones and four trumpets including Marsalis-was augmented throughout by three batá drummers (including Martinez). Visually, the percussionists added a dose of looseness: The orchestra members wore gray suits and the trio wore matching white golf caps. The second set brought out additional tricks: Two female vocalists and two dancers, one male and one female. The vocalists wore white dresses; the female dancer wore blue and the male dancer wore red. Near the end of the first set and a couple of times in the second, Valdés emerged to replace the orchestra’s pianist. When Valdés would take over, the concert became an event. Things were special now.

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