The Washington Post
October 21, 1998
Havana Nirvana: Classics From Cuba
New CDs From Afro-Cuban All Stars, Pianist Chucho Valdes

                  By Jim Byers
                  Special to The Washington Post
                  Wednesday, October 21, 1998; Page D07

                  Afro-Cuban music, the legacy of West African slaves taken to Cuba as
                  late as 1886, possesses a sense of continuity equaled by few other popular
                  genres. Two upcoming performances, one by pianist Chucho Valdes and
                  the other by the Afro-Cuban All Stars, traverse the continuum of
                  Afro-Cuban popular music of the last half-century. Both ensembles also
                  are represented by outstanding CDs.

                  Like an impeccably maintained vintage custom suit, the program of Cuban
                  classics on the Afro-Cuban All Stars' "A Toda Cuba le Gusta" (World
                  Circuit) emerges as crisp and dashing as ever. Bandleader Juan de Marcos
                  Gonzalez, who penned most of the fine arrangements, combed the island
                  for seasoned musicians who had provided the soundtrack for pre-Castro
                  Havana's sparkling nightlife.

                  Pianist Ruben Gonzalez, for example, is a veteran of the rhythm sections of
                  both Arsenio Rodriguez, who introduced the conga drum into Cuban
                  popular music, and Enrique Jorrin, who conceived the cha cha cha. Supple
                  and soulful, Gonzalez's breathtaking piano solos on "Los Sitio Asere" and
                  "Habana del Este" belie the fact that he had not played professionally in
                  years. Representatives of the younger generation include trumpeter Luis
                  Alemany, leader of the celebrated band Cubanismo.

                  A haunting guajira-son, "Amor Verdadero," smolders with ensemble
                  trumpet passages of sheer liquid-brass and soulful vocals by Manuel
                  "Puntillita" Licea. Singer Ibrahim Ferrer's vocals and Alemany's trumpet
                  soar above a frenetic "Maria Caracoles," which combines two '60s
                  rhythms largely unheard by U.S. mass audiences during the cultural
                  "blackout": Mozambique and pilon. The Afro-Cuban All Stars perform
                  Saturday at Lisner Auditorium.

                  (To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at
                  202-334-9000 and press 8175.)

                  Pianist Chucho Valdes, who performs at Blues Alley tomorrow and
                  Friday, has been expanding the boundaries of Cuban music for three
                  decades. Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera
                  are just two alumni of Irakere, the visionary jazz-fusion group co-founded
                  and led by Valdes in 1973. Featuring his new jazz quartet, Valdes' "Bele
                  Bele en La Habana" (Blue Note) firmly establishes this virtuoso's place
                  among the finest jazz improvisers of our time.

                  Classically trained, jazz-inspired and grounded in Afro-Cuban tradition,
                  Valdes creates endless combinations of the three genres with consummate
                  understanding of their possibilities. His fine rhythm section features Alain
                  Perez Rodriguez on acoustic bass, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot on congas,
                  and Raul Pineda Roque on drums. Selections include a breezy mambo
                  rendition of Gershwin's "But Not for Me," as well as Valdes' own plaintive
                  "Lorraine" and the boiling "Son Montuno." His interpretations of Cuban
                  standards range from a monumental danzon arrangement of "Tres Lindas
                  Cubanas" to a funk-infused "El Cumbanchero." Of special note is the
                  jumping "Con Poco Coco," which was written in 1952 by Chucho's father,
                  legendary pianist Bebo Valdes, and is considered the first contemporary
                  Latin-jazz descarga (jam session) recorded in Cuba.

                  (To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at
                  202-334-9000 and press 8176.)

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