Today, we say "Hola!" to the Cuban-born pianist Chucho Valdés, who's bringing his band the Afro-Cuban Messengers to St. Louis for a performance next Saturday, February 11 at the Sheldon Concert Hall.
Valdés, who's now 70 years old, is the son of the legendary Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, director of the house band at Havana's famed Tropicana nightclub. The younger Valdés first became known in the USA in the late 1970s as one of the founding members of the group Irakere, and was recognized immediately for his powerful keyboard technique, particularly his facility in using both hands simultaneously to play melodies and single-note improvised lines in octaves.
Since Irakere's breakout success, it's been difficult for Cuban musicians to tour in the USA because of the political situation, but Valdés has managed to give a few performances here over the years, most notably back in 2003 when he returned after a 20-year absence. He also has maintained a presence here on record, releasing several CDs on Blue Note as well as on smaller labels. He has won four Grammy Awards here in the USA - one for Irakere's debut album, one with Roy Hargrove's group Crisol for their album Habana, and two as a leader, for 2003's Live at the Village Vanguard and 2011's Chucho's Steps.
Our first video clip up above shows Valdés and the Messengers performing a song called "New Orleans" in 2010 at the Festival Jazz San Javier in Spain. In addition to the leader, the musicians are Reinaldo Melián Alvarez (trumpet), Carlos Manuel Miyares Hernandez (tenor sax), Lázaro Rivero Alarcón (bass), Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé (percussion, batá, vocals), Juan Carlos Rojas Castro (drums), and Yaroldy Abreu Robles (percussion).
Down below, there's an undated clip that was labeled simply "TUMBAO" that features some especially nice views of the pianist's hands as he plays off what the percussionists are doing. At one point, Valdés demonstrates a percussive approach to the piano by rolling his fingers over the keyboard in a way that's very similar to what a conga player does.
Below that is "Obatalá," also from the Festival Jazz San Javier 2010 and featuring the same musicians along with vocalist Mayra Caridad Valdés, who's Chucho's sister. Next are two clips, totaling about a half-hour's worth of music, of Valdés and the Messengers' set in 2010 at the Vienna Jazz Festival.
We close out with a couple of short older clips of Valdés playing solo. Although the video quality is a bit washed out, the audio is fine and the performances reveal a bit more about his approach to the keyboard. The first is called "Improvisación Cubana," and is pretty much what you'd guess it to be from the title. The final clip features Valdés invoking his classical training with his take on Chopin's famous "Prelude in E minor."
For more about Valdés, check out this review of his NYC performance last month written by the New York Times' Nate Chinen.