Chucho Valdés ‘Jazz Bata 2’ CD (Mack Avenue) 4/5

Co-founder of Cuban super Grupo Irakere (‘Irakere’ being the Yoruba term for ‘forest’), but from the 1990s now a solo artist leader, Chucho Valdés delivers volume two of a project that goes way back in time to the early days of the 1970s. This time round the leader forms part of a quartet, with jazz violinist Regina Carter an additional guest on two numbers. The music varies in tempo and spontaneity, but is devoted to Afro-Cuban jazz, and that means the repeated use of Afro-Cuban percussion such as the bata drum and assorted instrumentation. If the first two pieces are somewhat freer in style, with an experimental piano improvisation on the opener, ‘Obatalá’, by the second number, ‘Son XXI’, that early improvisatory feel morphs into a piano riff and once the musicians hit a lyrical groove, they remain there for the remainder. For those note already ware, Valdés is part of a musical dynasty with his late father Bebo a fine pianist in his own right, and son Chucho pays homage to the former on, ‘100 años de Bebo’, which is performed here as a refined danzón with guest Carter performing as classical accompanist, before a piano vamp suddenly kicks in, and that is all the pretext that the violinist needs to start improvising herself in the manner of the Cuban Alfredo da la Fé. The quartet comprises double bassist Yelsy Heredia, percussionist Yaroldy Abreu Robles and the bata drum plus vocal accompaniment of Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé. For fans of a more straight ahead Latin jazz feel, ‘Chucho’s mood’, comes across as the kind of piece that the late Rubén Gonzalez could have concocted and there is some deft quoting of Duke Ellington’s, ‘Take the ‘A’ train’, towards the end. However, the pace lessens considerably on the gentle, ‘Luces’, and on the blues-inflected, ‘Ochún”, which has a deeply soulful undercurrent, and the chorus bears a strong resemblance to Billy Taylor’s opus, ‘I wish I knew how it would feel to be free’.

Tim Stenhouse

Read also: Chucho Valdés and Afro-Cuban Messengers ‘Border-Free’ CD (Jazz Village) 4/5