Chucho Valdés's piano-led recordings are studies in musical tension and dialogues. On Briyumba Palo Congo
, he enlists a pair of percussionists, and Raúl Pineda Roque, the trap drummer, shares with Valdés a smolder that turns to conflagration when their tense interplays burst. Of course much of the fire is locked into the percussion dialogues where patterned drumming inspires improvisation amid fairly strict rhythmic controls. Valdés runs away from the pack in spots, shuffling across the keyboard leaving a wake of chromatic color. Roque does the same, exploding on his drums in fits of even tempos and being tugged back into the Cuban rhythmic rumble promptly by Roberto Vizcaíno Guillót's conga and batá
drums, if not Valdés's own hyperimaginative harmonic runs. This is certainly not as flashy as Gonzalo Rubalcaba
's dazzling explosions, and with the title suite's choral and vocal exclamations, it's rooted much more solidly in Afro-Cuban traditions. With his medium-hot pacing and his ability to blow solos wide open, it's clear that Valdés's years in Irakere
barely prepared the ears for piano work of this magnitude. --Andrew Bartlett
Pianist Valdés once again puts Cuban and American music through the speed blender of his imposing technique, swirling together cuban secular dance rhythms and religious music with swing, bop, modal, and free jazz at a dizzying pace. His second Blue Note effort away from Irakere (his long-standing Afro-Cuban answer to the Jazz Messengers) spotlights his staggering chops with a quartet featuring bassist Francisco Rubio Pampin, drummer Ra·l Pineda Roque, and percussionist Robert Vizcaino Guillet. "El Rumbon," played over an uncharacteristically fast guaguanco rhythm, features the pianist's surreal changes of direction, as he cartwheels between hammered two-note drum patterns, McCoy Tyner-ish chords, blindingly fast lines, and blues licks. Ellington's "Caravan" features devilish left-hand patterns and accents that explode into dark, atonal note clusters, then downshift into the type of four-four chording that Erroll Garner would have related to. Valdés saves the most audacious ideas until the end of the album. "Ponle le Clave" grafts the basic clave rhythm and montuno piano vamps onto a 7/4 meter. Gershwin's familiar "Rhapsody in Blue" is reshaped as an elegant danzün. The title track, the most experimental on the disc, blends a celebratory Palo religious chant with stride and gospel accents from Valdés. Then it opens into a free-tempo exchange between singers, percussionists, and piano, before ending with an unaccompanied piano solo that alternates between frantic energy and quiet lyricism. Sometimes, the pianist's skill and overheated imagination can get the better of him, turning the music into directionless technical displays, but when everything clicks, there are few more exciting or provocative pianists in jazz.
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