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Yucca and danzón

Chucho appeared on stage of L’Auditori of Barcelona to applause from the expectant public of the 46th Barcelona International Jazz Festival.  Before starting he told us about the formation Irakere, the Cuban jazz group he co-founded in 1973. The night, Chucho alerted us, was to honor largely the role of that band whose embryo goes back to 1967 with the creation of the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music of which Chucho Valdés was a member under the direction of Armando Romeu and Rafael Somavilla. Chucho quickly became the group leader creating a quintet with which in 1970 he travelled to Poland and after whose performance his reputation as one of the best pianists in the world soared. Finally, in 1973 he formed Irakere, which in Yoruba language means vegetation, combining jazz, rock, classical and traditional Cuban music. The band has had some of the best Latin musicians such as Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D'Rivera, and revolutionized Latin music.

The night was an absolute delirium showing that L’ Auditori was an inappropriate place for such wild rhythms. The feet went away, also the legs, but the seats forced demure postures from a rhythmic point of view. Some refused to such repression and gave vent to their urges lifting body and soul. The musicians themselves asked us during the show, especially in the end, to get up, considering that the furnace of the music so virtuously they were offering us was not for dry buns in static armchairs but for knockout swinging movements.

The backing band of the maestro Valdés were the Afro-Cuban Messengers, composed by Gastón Joya, bass; Rodney Barreto, drums; Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, batás and vocals; Yaroldy Abreu Robles, percussion, and special guests Alexander Abreu, trumpet and vocals; Reynaldo Melian, Molote, trumpet; Manuel Machado, trumpet; Rafael Aguila, alto sax, and Ariel Bringuez, tenor sax. They all had their moment to shine throughout the concert, all of them of the highest quality.

The songs were performed in a good combination of powerful rhythm and melodic moments, taken from the Irakere repertoire or from their recent album Border-free. The theme Claudia (Guajira to Bebo) brought us back memories of the great Bebo Valdés, his father, whose talent and smile many miss. The key sexual humor came from the hand of the classic by Arsenio Rodríguez and versioned by Irakere El güayo de Catalina. 100 años de juventud is a Danzon that Chucho Valdés composed for the centenary of Danzon and originally recorded with Irakere, an absolutely delicious song. Another Irakere’s track was  Por romper el coco, a juicy and playful song. From his latest album I’d remark Congodanza in which the virtuosity of maestro Valdés had free space enough to dance and leave us speechless. It’s a wonderful piece that opens an excellent album. Just after it, it came Los guiros, a splendid and very rhythmic piece, deep roots in African percussion and chants combined with the Chucho’s piano contemporary view. Estela va a estallar is another one of the age of Irakere, a version of the standard Stella by Starlight by Victor Young composed as an instrumental for the musical film The Uninvited directed by Lewis Allen in 1944, and later Ned Washington added the lyrics. Chucho joked with the change of the title and we gave an impeccable performance.

There were three encores, and all the audience wanted more. The evening was everything we could have dreamed and even more. Thanks Mr. Valdés, please come back soon.

Text by Juan Carlos Romero
Chucho Valdés website
Photo courtesy of The Project | Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona
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