Chucho Valdés, the greatest ambition

Portentous, spiritual, at times thick and finally irresistible, the Cuban musician presented ‘Creation’ at the Palau de la Música

Chucho Valdés, 80 years old, endless peaks crowned in Afro-Cuban music and jazz, total pianist, hands that can do everything, is a giant. In his huge embrace you would say that everything fits. And during the pandemic he wanted to write his most complete work. Valdés wanted to tell the journey of a culture that is his and that was born in West Africa, reached the Caribbean and spread north to the United States. All starting from the figure of Olodumare, divinity of the orishas in Nigeria and creator of the rule of Ocha. And all following the beat of the batá drums and the Yoruba songs dedicated to the saints of Cuban Santeria. “I think it is one of the most complete works that have been written in this sense. I leave it to your consideration & rdquor ;, he announced before starting the concert at the Palau. He did so after presenting the gold medal of the Voll-Damm Festival de Jazz de Barcelona to the director of the Conservatori del Liceu, an ally of the festival for a long decade.

Valdés has entitled his total work ‘La Creation’. To make it possible, a long dozen musicians are needed, including horns, keyboardists, voices, percussions and a rhythm section. But before premiering it in Barcelona, ​​he would play a piano solo and in a quartet for a while. Have you ever seen a portent? Because that is Chucho Valdés at the piano. A wonder. A combination of skill, power, sensitivity and knowledge that must have rarely occurred in the same musician. Alone on the piano, he played to American jazz standards as if they were miniatures, and in the company of his band he went Afro-Cuban, with mischievous quotes from Mozart and Ravel. Syncretism made an example and joy.

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And ‘Creation’ arrived, which started mysteriously, mystically, with an invocation to Olodumare and became luminous when the batá drums came into play, and above all, the voices. What they said, what saints they sang to, it was impossible to know. Sung in the language of the Yoruba and without the play program that Chucho Valdés announced days before in his interviews, it was only possible to conjecture which episode of the journey they were in at any given moment. But the depth, the spirituality, were very clear, although the long solos of its musicians – now double bass, now percussion – somewhat blurred the thread of the narrative. From the keyboards, two trusted men from Valdés, the Cuban Hilario Durán and the American John Beasley, conducted an imposing horn section, while the author remained in the background, accompanying the music with his body, dancing on his bench, playing just enough and reserving its powers for a single solo piano passage.

The music became thick and electric, then the batá drums were exchanged for checkers, perhaps a sign of arrival at another station on the journey from Africa to America. The arrival in the United States was clear, with the Yoruba songs set on a lifelong blues, and the end of ‘La Creation’ was somewhat disconcerting, in the form of a pyrotechnic solo of his drums – a category solo: to play with Chucho Valdés are only worth the best. Perhaps to make it clear that everything begins and ends in rhythm? And while he put the Palau on its feet with an irresistible encore by Irakere, the question remained as to whether ‘Creation’ is, indeed, his greatest work. The most ambitious, for sure.

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