Chucho Valdés

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Chucho Valdés
Tribute to Irakere: Live in Marciac
Jazz Village

Sprung from the seminal Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna under the leadership of Armando Romeu, pianist-composer-director Chucho Valdés founded Irakere in 1973, recruiting Paquito D'Rivera (alto and tenor sax, flute, clarinet), Carlos Averhoff (soprano and tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet), Jorge Varona (trumpet, valve trombone, percussion), Carlos Emilio Morales (guitar), Carlos del Puerto (bass guitar, bass, tuba), Enrique Pla (drum kit), Bernardo García (drums, batá), Jorge Alfonso (batá), Carlos Barbón (güiro, chekere, pandereta), and Oscar Valdés (vocals, conga, batá, bongos).

It is no exaggeration to say that Valdés, D'Rivera, and company staked out the territory of contemporary Latin jazz as we continue to know it today. To grasp just how avant-garde Irakere was in its early years, consider their first U.S. appearance at the (long demolished) Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey on March 23, 1979 (their appearance was only possible due to the short-lived diplomatic thaw under the Carter administration, interestingly as the opening act for Stephen Stills). The spirit of Irakere's shape-shifting blend of Afro-Cuban folk and spiritual idioms with jazz, gospel, funk, R&B, rock, tango and European classical mastery was manifest from the first batá beat to the encore's carnivalesque parade through the audience.

Some four decades on, Valdés has assembled a younger generation of Cuban players, but rather than a nostalgic note-for-note reproduction of the original material, under the direction of Valdés, this ten-piece touring ensemble (vocals, alto and tenor sax, a trio of trumpets, double bass, drums, batá, percussion) reimagines six Irakere originals that span the genre spectrum from conga to tango, Afro-funk to salsa, and rumba to blues. The freshness and continuity of the Irakere vision is manifest on this August 3, 2015 live recording from Jazz in Marciac, France, with Valdés swinging harder than ever in his 75th year. - Michael Stone

Irakere 40, Estival Jazz Lugano, Switzerland (July 11, 2015, full concert)

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