Monday, August 4, 2014

Chucho Valdés: A True Messenger of the Afro-Cuban Tradition

Maestro Chucho Valdés
There are a select few musicians in the world who elicit a combination of awe, respect and joy from their listeners while simultaneously knocking their socks off. Chucho Valdés is one of those rare artists who has not only garnered accolades for his enormous talent but also for his forward-thinking contributions to the Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz musical canons, and at age 72, he is sounding better than ever!

This past weekend, the SFJAZZ Center was honored to host the Maestro with his extraordinary quintet of young powerhouse players - the aptly-named Afro-Cuban Messengers - for four incredible nights as well as an afternoon master class in which he traced the evolution of Cuban popular music in a 90-minute lecture-demonstration. The highlights from the class are represented in these few photos, but nothing comes close to adequately describing the musical amalgam that is Chucho Valdés and the journey the audiences were treated to night after mind-blowing night.

Valdés & the Afro-Cuban Messengers

As the blogger du jour I should state for the record that I am extremely biased, having been a fan and friend of Chucho's for over 25 years, but there is no denying the jaw-dropping performances that he and his Messengers gave us, as was evident with the multiple standing ovations the band received. From explosive percussion-laden grooves to tender ballads sprinkled with echoes of Bill Evans and Brubeck to Bach and beyond, to the thrilling tango-timba-blues he composed for his wife Lorena (who was in the house along with their son each night)...every piece was a gem, and each night a magical exploration of Valdés' compositional legacy.

One of MANY ovations during their 4-day appearances.
L to r: Gastón Joya (bs), Valdés (pno), Rodney Barreto (dr),
Dreiser Durruthy (pc/voc) and Yaroldy Abreu (congas).
The synergy he enjoys with this particular band of players is remarkable; they may be decades younger than their leader, but they are fearless in their interpretation of Valdés' immense body of work, effortlessly changing gears between time-bending odd-meter pieces and beautiful tributes such as the ballads written for his departed parents, including legendary pianist Bebo Valdés.

Valdés with SFJAZZ Director of Education Rebeca Mauleón
Our master class this past Saturday was a reminder of why he is undoubtedly one of the world's musical treasures: his breadth of knowledge and experience, his prolific body of work, and his technical brilliance are equally matched by his sheer humility. There are very few pianists who can switch gears between classical music, jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms while simultaneously referencing Herbie Hancock, Issac Albeñiz, Mozart and Miles, and still remain true to themselves!

I continue to be inspired and nurtured by Valdés' musical genius, and am eternally grateful that he has allowed us to share in his many gifts. He is, like Duke and Blakey before him, a beacon of advocacy for emerging talent and a fountain of creativity, and he continues to carve his path beyond border or boundary.
-- Rebeca Mauleón

For more information on Chucho Valdés visit his website at

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