Archive for chucho valdes

Keep Calm and Clave On – An Afro-Cuban Jazz Primer – Part 3

Posted in afro-cuban jazz, Jazz Arts Charlotte, Jazz in Charlotte, Under The Radar with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2019 by curtjazz

The clave (/ˈklɑːveɪ, kleɪv/; Spanish: [ˈklaβe]) – a rhythmic pattern used as a tool for temporal organization in Afro-Cuban music. It is present in a variety of genres such as Abakuá music, rumba, conga, son, mambo, salsa, songo, timba and Afro-Cuban jazz. The five-stroke clave pattern represents the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms
(From Wikipedia)

Got it now? The clave, is the heartbeat of great Afro-Cuban music. You can fill your stage with world class musicians but without the clave, you’ve got nothing. You can bring in all the explanations you want but you’ve got to have the heartbeat.

I’m going to stop trying to describe it now because I am woefully unqualified to do so. Percussionist Dafnis Prieto, is very qualified and I’ll let him do so, briefly, in the clip below:

Also more than qualified; clave wise; are Orquesta K’Che; one of the best Latin Jazz bands in the Carolinas. They will be with us in JazzArts Charlotte’s THE JAZZ ROOM on April 24 & 25, as we pay tribute to The Music of Cuba. A sample of their remarkable artistry is below:

So come out and join us THE JAZZ ROOM this weekend. And before or after the show, check out the history of the music by checking out the last five of our Afro-Cuban Jazz pioneers:

  • Chano Pozo (1915 – 1948) Luciano Pozo González contributions to the development of Afro-Cuban Jazz during his short life are incalculable. A dark-skinned Cuban, who was a devotee of the Santería religion, he scuffled his entire life to survive. His talents as a drummer were discovered at a very early age. However, the bandleaders, who admired his work, would not hire him, because of his skin color. He immigrated to the U.S., in 1947, in search of a better life. Dizzy Gillespie wanted to add Cuban percussion to his big band. His friend, Mario Bauzá suggested his newly arrived friend, Pozo. The rest is history. Diz and Chano’s collaboration lasted only 14 months but during that time Chano’s innovative style on the congas, melded with the sound of Dizzy’s brash bop based big band, to create a sound like nothing jazz had ever heard before. This was the beginning “Cubop”. It was a thrill for audiences to see the muscular, shirtless, Chano; strutting around the stage, chanting in Yoruba as his rhythm drove the band. He and Gillespie collaborated on writing the standards, “Tin Tin Deo” and “Manteca”. They also created an unforgettable version of “Cubana Be; Cubana Bop”. Sadly, their amazing collaboration was cut short, as Chano Pozo was shot dead, in a Harlem bar argument at age 33.
  • Arsenio Rodríguez (1911 – 1970) – A musician, composer and bandleader, Rodríguez played the tres (Cuban guitar), as well as the conga. Born in Cuba and blinded at the age of seven, when kicked in the head by a mule, Rodríguez was considered a master of the son Cubano, son montuno and rumba. He also established the modern Cuban conjunto, adding piano, horns and congas to the traditional Cuban sextet or septet. This format became the standard for most Afro-Cuban music that was not being performed by a big band. Several of his former musicians, including pianist Rubén Gonzalez, saw a late career revival, due to the Buena Vista Social Club album and film, which drew heavily on Rodríguez’s style. Rodríguez was a prolific composer, who wrote over 200 songs. He was unable to musically transition, when interest in the mambo waned, by the mid-60’s. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, in 1970.
  • Mongo Santamaría (1917 – 2003) Influential Cuban conga player, bandleader and composer who pioneered the marriage between Afro-Cuban rhythms and R&B. He heard Herbie Hancock play “Watermelon Man”, while Herbie was working as a fill-in pianist in Mongo’s band. He got Herbie’s permission to record it, it became a smash pop hit and thereby helped spawn the boogaloo (bugalú) craze.  His most famous composition, “Afro Blue,” became a jazz standard in and was recorded by John Coltrane and Cal Tjader, among many others. Mongo is a legend in jazz, Afro-Cuban, R&B and pop music. Arguably, he is the musician with the widest influence in this grouping.
  • Carlos “Patato” Valdés (1926 – 2007) Once called “The greatest conguero alive”, by Tito Puente, Patato invented (and patented) the tuneable conga drum. Traditional nail-head conga drums used nails to secure the skin to the wooden drum, which could be ‘tuned’ somewhat by using a candle or Sterno under the head of the drum. A visonary, Patato had long been experimenting with securing the skin to the drum-head with a metal ring which could be adjusted with a square box wrench, allowing a conga player to tune his instrument as would a violinist or pianist. After emigrating to the U.S. from Cuba in 1954, Patato’s first album in the US was Kenny Dorham’s classic Afro-Cuban. During his illustrious career, he worked with virtually every legend of Afro-Cuban and jazz music, including Art Blakey, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría; Willie Bobo; Grant Green and many more.
  • Chucho Valdés (1941 –    ) Arguably the greatest Cuban pianist ever,  Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, is a true living legend. The son of Bebo Valdés, who was also a pianist (1918 – 2013) as well as the leader of the orchestra at Havana’s famed Tropicana club; Chucho has been instrumental in the spread of the influence of Afro-Cuban Jazz, into the 21st Century. Chucho first garnered attention outside of Cuba, when he formed Irakere, in 1973, with some of his bandmates from Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, a Cuban big band. Irakere blended Afro-Cuban, jazz and influences from modern rock, funk and pop, into their sound. Though some of the early members of Irakere, such as Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, defected to the U.S., Valdés remained in his homeland. However, as tensions between the U.S. and Cuba began to thaw in the 90’s, Chucho became a frequent presence in the U.S., for recordings and concerts. He has won six Grammy Awards and although he yielded the piano/director chair of Irakere to his son, Chuchito, he continues to work and garner acclaim, with his current band, the Afro-Cuban Messengers.

Hope to see you in THE JAZZ ROOM this weekend. For additional info, visit the JazzArts Charlotte website TheJazzArts.org

Hasta la próxima, el jazz continúa …

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2017 Grammy Nominations: Jazz categories

Posted in 2017 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by curtjazz

grammy1

Congratulations to all of the artists nominated for Grammy Awards in the jazz related categories. Since they often include jazz artists, we’ve also included the nominations in the instrumental arrangement and composition categories in this list. The awards will be presented on Sunday, February 12, 2017, in a portion of the program prior to the nationally televised broadcast. More on the nominated, albums, performances and artists will follow in the coming weeks.

Best improvised jazz solo

“Countdown” — Joey Alexander, soloist

“In Movement” — Ravi Coltrane, soloist

“We See” — Fred Hersch, soloist

“I Concentrate On You” — Brad Mehldau, soloist

“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” — John Scofield, soloist

Best jazz vocal album

“Sound of Red” — René Marie

“Upward Spiral” — Branford Marsalis Quartet With Special Guest Kurt Elling

“Take Me to the Alley” — Gregory Porter

“Harlem On My Mind” — Catherine Russell

“The Sting Variations” — The Tierney Sutton Band

Best jazz instrumental album

“Book of Intuition” — Kenny Barron Trio

“Dr. Um” — Peter Erskine

“Sunday Night at the Vanguard” — The Fred Hersch Trio

“Nearness” — Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau

“Country For Old Men” — John Scofield

Best large jazz ensemble album

“Real Enemies” — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

“Presents Monk’estra, Vol. 1” — John Beasley

“Kaleidoscope Eyes: Music of the Beatles” — John Daversa

“All L.A. Band” — Bob Mintzer

“Presidential Suite: Eight Variations On Freedom” — Ted Nash Big Band

Best Latin jazz album

“Entre Colegas” — Andy González

“Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Perspective on the Music of Woody Shaw” — Brian Lynch & Various Artists

“Canto América” — Michael Spiro/Wayne Wallace La Orquesta Sinfonietta

“30” — Trio Da Paz

“Tribute to Irakere: Live In Marciac” — Chucho Valdés

Best instrumental composition

“Bridge of Spies (End Title)” — Thomas Newman, composer

“The Expensive Train Set (An Epic Sarahnade For Double Big Band)” — Tim Davies, composer

“Flow” — Alan Ferber, composer

“L’Ultima Diligenza Di Red Rock”  Versione Integrale — Ennio Morricone, composer

“Spoken at Midnight” — Ted Nash, composer

Best arrangement, instrumental or a cappella

“Ask Me Now” — John Beasley, arranger

“Good Swing Wenceslas” — Sammy Nestico, arranger

“Linus & Lucy” — Christian Jacob, arranger

“Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” — John Daversa, arranger

“We Three Kings” — Ted Nash, arranger

“You And I” — Jacob Collier, arrange

Best arrangement, instruments and vocals

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” — Gordon Goodwin, arranger (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band Featuring Take 6)

“Do You Want To Know a Secret” — John Daversa, arranger (John Daversa Featuring Renee Olstead)

“Flintstones” — Jacob Collier, arranger (Jacob Collier)

“I’m a Fool to Want You” — Alan Broadbent, arranger (Kristin Chenoweth)

“Somewhere (Dirty Blvd)” (Extended Version) — Billy Childs & Larry Klein, arrangers (Lang Lang Featuring Lisa Fischer & Jeffrey Wright)

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2013 – The Final List

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2013 by curtjazz

tim greenMerry Christmas everyone!

Here’s a compilation list of our choices for the Best Jazz Albums of 2013 from our three prior Best of the Year posts. A click on the links in each title will take you to the Amazon or CD Baby page for each album (a great way to spend those gift cards you may have gotten from Santa).

From Best Jazz Albums of 2013 (So Far)

From Best Jazz Albums of 2013 – The Second Half

From Best Jazz of 2013 – A Few More Good Things; Plus!

And 5 great 2012 albums that we missed until 2013:

Tracks from all of the albums listed here will be featured on Curt’s Café Noir WebJazz Radio, starting on December 27, 2013 and into January 2014 as part of our Year End / New Year programming. Click HERE to go to the station and listen. It’s Free!

May you all have a happy, prosperous and jazz filled 2014!

The Best Jazz Albums of 2013 (So Far)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2013 by curtjazz

cecile mclorin salvantOver the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a small but insistent wave in jazz. We’re seeing artists in their twenties and thirties playing music that does nod to the traditions but also shows the influences of what a lot of these younger musicians grew up listening to; hip-hop; crunk and other related styles. This style has evolved from the confused mess that some of the early cross genre attempts were, into something that is fresh and stands on its own, apart from either of its main musical parents.  As a result, I’ve begun to see a number of today’s jazz writers (and a few musicians as well) rise up and take arms against the “interlopers”. They have written page after page on why what the young musicians are doing “isn’t jazz”.

Whatever else it is, “jazz” will always be about evolution, improvisation and change. What the young cats are now trying to do, could represent the first really new thing in jazz in 50 years. I may not like everything that’s a part of it but I embrace the fact that someone is doing something new.

You’ll see a couple of those albums among my mid-term favorites. Disagreements and agreements are always welcome but spam is not. The albums are in alphabetical order by title.

The Bespoke Man’s Narrative – Aaron Diehl (Mack Avenue)

This was the first album this year to “wow” me. Mr. Diehl’s third album is an unabashed tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet, which was the first jazz group to “wow” me, over thirty years ago. Mr. Diehl is an outstanding pianist with a strong sense of swing, yet a light touch, reminiscent of course, of John Lewis. And when label mate Warren Wolf sits in on vibes, the transformation becomes complete.

Border Free – Chucho Valdes and the Afro-Cuban Messengers (Jazz Village)

The great Cuban pianist just gets better with age. This album  is a deeply personal statement, filled with tributes to his family members and others who have influenced his musical direction. But you never forget that this is a Chucho Valdés album, so these tributes are carried out in the midst of killer Afro-Cuban rhythms and piano statements of astonishing brilliance. You can read my full review HERE.

Grace – J.D. Allen (Savant)

After recording in the sax, bass, drums trio format for five years, J.D. brings a pianist back into the group on Grace. Not just any pianist but Russian-born wunderkind Eldar Djangirov. Instead of altering the group’s style, Djangirov blends in nicely adding a rich texture to Allen’s group that was missing in some of the previous outings. The pianist has made a good thing even better. You can read my full review HERE.

In A World of Mallets – Jason Marsalis (Basin Street Records)

The youngest of the musical Marsalis brothers, Jason made a committment to playing the vibes full-time a few years ago. While he was a world-class drummer, Marsalis struggled a bit on his first album after making the switch four years ago.  He seems to have put those troubles behind him on this album, which is a rich, quirky and mature musical statement. It also takes my award for the punniest album title so far this year,

Live Today – Derrick Hodge (Blue Note Records)

Derrick Hodge, who was a major presence on Robert Glasper’s Grammy Winning Black Radio in 2012, has made an even stronger musical statement on his debut as a leader. The big name guest stars are not here but the music is denser and more complex than Black Radio’s. Finally, an artist has nailed it in the search for a hip-hop/jazz hybrid. This is “Real Jazz” for the 21st Century. You can read my full review HERE.

Magnetic – Terence Blanchard (Blue Note Records)

Hard to believe that Terence Blanchard has been on the jazz scene for over thirty years. While he has done everything from score films, to write operas, when you get right down to it, he is never better than he is when he fronting a group and reminding everyone that before all of the Hollywood accolades, Blanchard was one of the best jazz trumpet players around; period. He reminds us again here, with his working group and stellar guest spots from Ravi Coltrane, Lionel Loueke and the incomparable Ron Carter. You can read my full review HERE.

No Beginning, No End – Jose James (Blue Note Records)

The vocal love child of Al Green and Bill Henderson, Jose James struck pay dirt on this album, his Blue Note debut. It’s not as straight ahead jazzy as his Impulse! album from a couple of years back nor is it as club ready as some of his first efforts. It’s a blend of jazz, hip-hop and R&B that fits like a glove around James’ unique voice.  It is absolutely irresistible. No Beginning No End hasn’t left my CD Jukebox since its release and there’s a good chance that it will remain there until the end of the year.

Songs From This Season – Tim Green (True Melody Music)

This Baltimore native first drew attention with his second place finish in the 2008 Monk Saxophone Competition. He has recorded with a litany of jazz and Gospel artists from Warren Wolf to Andrae Crouch. But it’s Songs From This Season which has brought Mr. Green to the attention of most of the jazz world. It’s easy to see why. The album’s selections are mostly traditional post bop and Green is on fire throughout; be it on introspective ballads such as “Psalm 1” or burners such as his trio take on “Pinocchio”. This young man has musical ideas to spare. Something tells me that he will be on this list numerous times in the future.

That Nepenthetic Place – Dayna Stephens (Sunnyside Records)

A “nepenthe” is a fictional medicine for sorrow, a “drug of forgetfulness” mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology. That ancient word is an apt description for the music performed by tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and his quartet on this album. Though the selections are not decidedly upbeat, when taken as a whole, they leave you feeling terrific when they are done. Add in contributions from Gretchen Parlato, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and the third album proves to be the charm for Mr. Stephens. This is his best and most well-rounded recording to date.

Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild (Mack Avenue Records)

This is the most talked about album from a female jazz singer this year. Why? Because it is also the best album by a jazz vocalist so far this year, hands down.  The requisite comparisons to Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae and a number of other vocal greats have already begun. Ignore them. For though this is only the second album from this Miami native, she has established enough of her own style already to make most of those comparisons unfair and fairly irrelevant. Cecile won the Monk vocal competition in 2010 and if you want to know why, listen to this album. It’s not the work of a neophyte finding herself but of an established vocalist who knows exactly where she is going.

Again, this list represents my favorites among the jazz albums released this year that I’ve heard to this point. There’s much more that I will hear, including the stack of new recordings on my desk now. In December we will post the final list for 2013, which will include these albums plus the ones that I will be privileged to hear over the next four months. Until then, The Jazz Continues…

Album Review: Chucho Valdes – Border Free

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , on July 9, 2013 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the July 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers

chucho valdes

BORDER-FREE – Jazz Village Records JV570016 http://worldvillagemusic.tumblr.com Congadanza; Caridad Amaro; Tabú; Bebo; Afro-Comanche; Pilar; Santa Cruz; Abdel

PERSONNEL: Chucho Valdés, piano; Reinaldo Melián Alvarez, trumpet; Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, batás, lead vocals; Rodney Barreto Illarza, drums, vocals; Ángel Gastón Joya Perellada, double bass, vocals; Yaroldy Abreu Robles, percussion, vocals; Branford Marsalis, tenor sax, soprano sax

By Curtis Davenport

One of my biggest musical regrets is that I missed being able to experience the music of many great Cuban artists during some of their prime years, due solely to politics. One of those artists is Chucho Valdés. However, even though we’ll never get to really hear what Irakere was like in their prime, we can be thankful that Chucho is still very active at 71 and creating great music. His latest album, Border-Free (with a group that he calls The Afro-Cuban Messengers, in a nod to the jazz finishing school that was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers), is a deeply personal statement, filled with tributes to his family members and others who have influenced his musical direction. But you never forget that this is a Chucho Valdés album, so these tributes are carried out in the midst of killer Afro-Cuban rhythms and piano statements of astonishing brilliance.

Like Blakey’s Messengers, Valdés’ Messengers are comprised of impressive young musicians who are making a name for themselves, in this case in the Afro-Cuban jazz idiom. This is another reason that I hope that the climate between the U.S. and Cuba continues to thaw, so that we can hear more from these five brilliant Cuban youngsters. In addition, Valdés adds a “ringer”, as Branford Marsalis guest stars on three tracks.

The album’s title is a reference to the fact that Mr. Valdés made a conscious effort to make this more than just an Afro-Cuban album. The idea was to find rhythms that could be fused with those of Cuba to create something fresh and intriguing. One of the best examples of this effort led to the most impressive track on the album, “Afro-Comanche”. In the 19th century, a group of about 700 Comanche were taken prisoner during fighting with the Spanish Army, in what we now know as Texas. These Comanche were relocated to Mexico, then Spain and eventually Cuba. Many died from the conditions and the unfamiliar climate. Many of those who survived mixed with the Afro-Cubans and started families. Their children were known as “Afro-Comanches”. On this cut, Valdes begins with an opening on piano that employs traditional Native American musical elements. He then continues to state the theme, while Afro-Cuban rhythms are added. After a strong solo by bassist Ángel Gastón Joya Perellada, Valdés returns in 4/4 with a hard bop statement, raising the tension to the breaking point before he drops out, giving way a purely African drum solo by Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé on the batás, which leads to a call and response chant, wrapping up as Valdés blends in again to restate the theme. “Afro-Comanche” is twelve of the most exciting musical minutes that I’ve heard this year. I have to admit that I could not (and still cannot) stop listening to it.

“Tabú” is another standout. A tribute to Margarita Lecuona, the composer of “Babalú Ayé” and other Cuban classics, this mid-tempo track is notable for Marsalis’ cool tenor work and the impressive trumpet solo of Reinaldo Melián Alvarez. “Bebo”, in honor of Chucho’s late great father, who was also an outstanding pianist, has an insistent melody line that stuck in my head immediately. It also featured more excellent trumpet from Alvarez and tenor by Branford. What’s most impressive though is Valdés’ solo. On the spot, he decided to play a tumbao in his father’s style with his left hand, while soloing with his right hand in his own style, resulting in something that sounded a bit like Chucho and Bebo playing together. It was nicely done and very moving. “Pilar” was written by Valdés for his mother, who loved Bach’s preludes and fugues and Miles’ “Blue in Green”, so Chucho gives us a bit of both in this introspective piece, which kicks off with a striking bit of bowed bass work by Perellada and follows with Valdés reaching deep into his Bill Evans bag.

Border-Free is another triumph for Chucho Valdés, from concept to execution and all points in-between. Though it sounds clichéd, I can’t think of a better way to say it; Chucho just keeps getting better with age.