Chucho Valdes,
(Escondida, 2005)

The disc Virtuoso by Chucho Valdes was an intriguing mystery when it arrived. I saw that the label that said "Cuban Essentials" and thought, "OK, so Fidel's kids are going for the minimal costs on art theme."

This doesn't help a gal like me who knows zip about traditional Cuban music, so I pop in the disc and the first cut (in fact the first five tracks) are solo piano pieces in a 20th-century contemporary classical vein. They are tasteful, display great technical proficiency and exploit contemporary jazz phrasing within the classical context. Very good stuff, but not earth-moving -- at least to this listener who is not an expert on this genre of music.

And then ... the track "Maria Christine" starts, which is an outstanding cut of soft Latin-influenced jazz with a solid female vocal accompaniment. Surprise! This is a prima donna jazz pianist who wanted to show off for 10 minutes. Yes, there's a risk of a listener not getting to the meat and potatoes by pulling the disc before the good stuff starts.

The rest of the tracks are mixed. Some are exceptional, like "A La Casa De La Trova" with its powerful brass arrangements or "Cuando la Rio Suena" with a world-class bass performance. Others are weak, such as "No Quiero Celos Contago," which is poorly recorded and has an almost amateurish vocal performance. Overall, if you don't mind picking through the chaff, there are some great soft Latin jazz gems on this one. Keep in mind, you will just have to swallow real hard on the road apples if you want to put on the disc and listen from top to bottom.

music review by
Carole McDonnell

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