Cuba Culture

Two giants electrify with Cuban jazz

Posted April 01, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Culture.

By Steve Greenlee | Boston Globe Staff

Two titans of their instruments—pianist Chucho Valdes and saxophonist Joe Lovano—shared the stage Sunday night at Berklee Performance Center in a dynamic, powerful show of Cuban jazz.

Valdes was there with his group that includes bass, drums, and congas, plus his sister, who sang on two tunes, but the fireworks really started five pieces into the 11-song set, when Lovano joined the quartet for a gorgeous rendition of Ahmad Jamal’s old standby ‘‘Poinciana.’‘

Lovano and Valdes just started playing together last week, but they sounded as though they’d been at it for years. Valdes, one of the world’s most adventurous and skilled pianists, and Lovano, one of the most creative saxophonists going, made an arresting pair. Both are forceful performers who never run out of things to say, and they supported each other well when it came time to solo. But while Valdes’s heart is in Cuba, Lovano’s sound is wholly American, and so their contrasts were as compelling as their similarities.

Valdes was the focus of this show, though, and for good reason. He’s been called Cuba’s best pianist, and at 61, he plays with total confidence, employing thick, powerful chords one moment and tender, thoughtful phrases the next. His ideas are infectious and sometimes funky, and his Latin-jazz phraseology relies heavily on the blues. He can shift on a dime, going from meditative introspection to volcanic eruptions without notice. His large hands seemed less to be playing together than conversing, having lively discussions and then heated disagreements with each other.

Before Lovano joined in, the quartet submitted a fascinating medley of Duke Ellington tunes that began with ‘‘sophisticated Lady’’ and ended with ‘‘Caravan’’—rearranged Cuban-style. Mayra Caridad Valdes got the audience clapping and singing with a sweet take on ‘‘Besame Mucho.’‘

Most of the concert consisted of fast-paced salsa numbers such as ‘‘san Joe’’—which featured mind-boggling work from Valdes, whose hands leapt over each other during solos, and impassioned discourse from Lovano—but there were moments of tenderness, too. ‘‘Nanu,’’ played as a duet, offered Valdes and Lovano an opportunity for loving exploration—and gave the pumped-up audience a breather. (Valdes wrote both tunes specifically for his work with Lovano.)

From start to finish, the show was breathtaking. Whether working out original tunes or reworking chestnuts such as ‘‘All the Way,’’ Lovano and Valdes were riding high all evening. Every note was pure excitement, every space a prelude to bliss.

Chucho Valdes and Joe Lovano
At: Berklee Performance Center,
Sunday night

Steve Greenlee can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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