Jesus "Chucho" Valdez – El Jazz Cubano/Solo Piano (1992)

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by Nick DeRiso

Capitol Records — under its Blue Note and World Pacific imprints — put out a much-needed overview of Cuban jazz a while back.

From them emerged a new star: Showcased on both “El Jazz Cubano” (WP) and “Solo Piano” (BN) is the swinging magic of pianist Jesus “Chucho” Valdez.

He’s featured both by himself and as the leader of Irakere, one of the most important modern Cuban jazz outfits. Irakere was founded by Valdez, along with Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, both of whom went on wild acclaim as apprentices with Afro-Cuban pioneer Dizzy Gillespie.

The anthology features many of the great younger players — including pianists Hilario Duran (so fleet that you’re led to believe that he may, in fact, have three hands) and Gonzalo Rubalcaba — whose concise, bright arrangements are a high point. Irakere’s majestic “Claudia,” meanwhile, is romantic and simple.

Featured alone on “Solo Piano,” Valdez is even more impressive — melodic then percussive, cascading then driving. His work is simply sparkling, like a good turn of phrase by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.


Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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