No serious fan of the music needs an introduction to pianist and composer Jesús "Chucho" Valdés, who in his sixth decade remains a hurricane force gale in Afro-Cuban jazz. Son of renowned piano statesman Ramón "Bebo" Valdés, Chucho apprenticed with Cuban originators Ernesto Lecuona, Armando Romeu and Beny Moré, then co-founded the seminal jazz group Irakere, a training ground for such stars (and future expatriates) as Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. Chucho remained in Cuba, however, where he has maintained a vigorous recording and international touring regime.
Live at the Village Vanguard, which captures all the intimate warmth and unpredictability of a live recording, extends Chucho's string of knockout Blue Note dates. Francisco Rubio Pambin (acoustic bass), Raul Piñeda Roque (drums), Roberto Vizcaino Guillot (batá, conga) are understated stylists who tap into the mainline of Chucho's musical consciousness, while his sister Mayra Caridad Valdés unveils a set of firmament-shaking vocal chops on a brilliant reworking of Cuban composer Eliseo Grenet's ageless lullaby, "Drume Negrita." Chucho's inventive full-tilt abandon and big-chord attack evoke the jazz spirit of Bud Powell and McCoy Tyner at their finest (e.g., "To Bud Powell," "Ponle La Clave," or "Son XXI" and its "Summertime" Latin translation). But rooted in the danzón (e.g., "Punto Cubano") and son, with a knowing nod to Arsenio Rodríguez ("Como Traigo La Yuca"), Valdés never leaves any doubt as to the aboriginal source of his enormous musical inspiration. - Michael Stone
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