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World Music CD Reviews Jazz

Chucho Valdes

By Malachai Phelps
Published June 13, 2008

Featuring Cachaito

Originally compiled and released in 2002 and now officially available for the first time in the U.S., this stellar 20-song set bookends 16 years of the legendary Cuban jazz pianist’s career, beginning in 1970 with the exceedingly fruitful period he was enjoying with drummer Enrique Pla and bassist Orlando “Cachaíto” Lopez (later of Buena Vista Social Club fame). There’s little in Havana’s jazz-pop canon of the time that can match the upbeat, funky exuberance of “Preludio No. 1” or the frenetic Afro-samba blues of “Invento No. 4”—the latter offering a glimpse of the spaces Valdés would explore with his fusion juggernaut Irakere—while solo pieces like “Evocación A Manuel Saumell,” recorded in 1986, display a master’s emotional range, evoking such classical giants as Debussy and Shostakovich. Valdés continues to this day to add to his dauntingly hefty catalog, but if ever there was a good spot to sample the waters before diving in, this is a strong contender.