Chucho Valdes | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chucho Valdes 

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CHUCHO VALDES

During a brief thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations under Jimmy Carter's administration, Latin-jazz heavies Irakere managed not only to make several festival appearances in this country but also to take home Cuba's first Grammy. Now that things have finally warmed back up, the group and its founding pianist, Jesus "Chucho" Valdes, are once again working as musical ambassadors. Last year Valdes recorded and toured with trumpeter Roy Hargrove's Afro-Cuban project, Crisol, and Irakere brought the house down both at the 1998 Jazz Fest and in an after-hours set at HotHouse. Earlier this year Blue Note released Valdes's Bele bele en la Habana, a powerful and dynamic quartet recording that showcases the pianist's galvanizing blend of hot-blooded jazz improvisation--he can leap from the elegiac lyricism of Bill Evans to the lightning cluster runs of Cecil Taylor in a heartbeat--and infectiously propulsive Cuban rhythms. Whether reimagining Gershwin's "But Not for Me" as a breezy mambo or playing his own father's "Con poco coco" as a veritable barn burner, he melds the two sensibilities with matchless ease. His fabulous rhythm section includes limber percussionist Roberto Vizcaino Guillot, who's worked with pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, former Irakere flutist Orlando "Maraca" Valle, and Jesus Alema–y's Cubanismo!; and powerhouse drummer Raul Pi–eda Roque, who plays in the Cuban rock group Sintesis. Bassist Francisco Rubio Panpin rounds out the group for this show. The Mingus Big Band also plays. Friday, 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114. Earlier in the day Valdes will perform solo and discuss his music in a "rap session" cosponsored by the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum. That's at 1:30 PM at Harrison Park, 1824 S. Wood; 312-294-3206. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Jackson.

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