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Concert Reviews

Diego Figueiredo meets “Chuchito” Valdés at Flato Markham Theatre

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Diego Figueiredo & Chuchito Valdés

Diego Figueiredo & Chuchito ValdésBrazil meets Cuba, a time for Markham and GTA residents to come in from the cold for what was promised to be some hot sounds on March 7, 2019. Flato Markham Theatre and Minken Employment Lawyers presents the All That Jazz series, featuring Diego Figueiredo and Jesus “Chuchito” Valdés. Billed as a meeting of two of the most exciting Latin jazz artists, creating an explosion of music.

The music they played, mostly Brazilian popular songs, the beginnings and the endings were recognizable. The middle, well that was open to interpretation and both of these talented individuals let loose with improvisational abandon. Songs such as “The Girl From Ipanema,” and “How Insensitive” by Antonio Carlos Jobim  as well as “Manhã De Carnaval” by Luiz Bonfá were performed.

Diego Figueiredo is a guitarist with a style that reminds me of some of the great Spanish classical and flamenco guitarists of the past, Segovia, Sabicas and Montoya come to mind. He strums the strings with fingers in that distinct Spanish style. He also plucks the strings with his fingers and thumb, to great effect. On closer examination of his right hand, I noticed he has very long nails and he seems to use a combination of a finger and pick style. Figueiredo can play, jazz, swinging with ease, or mellow, he can play fast and he can play in the nether regions of the guitar, up over the bridge. All of this with a beautiful sound and style all his own.

Chuchito Valdés is a pianist of extraordinary talent. His piano playing, a strong classically influenced style with jazz inflection and Cuban heritage is at once exciting and engaging. I was drawn in by his dynamic playing. His body is involved in the performance, he is intense and captivating. I await with trepidation the sight of him actually falling from the piano bench. He slides back and forth across the bench and the keys, he pounds on the keys and the body of the piano, he bounces up and down, only to dig deeper and finally leaps up and buries himself into the body of the piano to pluck or strum a string or two.

Diego Figueiredo was the spokesperson for the duo and started the concert by asking how the crowd was doing, “Everybody alright?”Upon the crowds enthusiastic response of, “Yea!” The duo launched into an upbeat Cuban son number that warmed the theatre and displayed the dynamism of the duo. Figueiredo was dancing in and out of his chair, leaning way back and pulling off impressive runs. Valdés matched him stride for stride, giving a wonderful display of piano virtuosity.

After two songs, Valdés departed leaving Figueiredo to perform solo. He would go on to play two songs, one original tune with a Samba feel, it had all the colours of Brazil and a cool beach like theme. He mentioned writing it while trying to warm his hands prior to a concert in Buffalo.

Chuchito Valdés returned to the stage for his solo portion of the concert, Figueiredo departed. His first number was recognizable as a classic Cuban song, very fast riffing, accentuated by powerful chord progressions. The second song, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” performed beautifully, with great sensitivity and passion. He played it peaceful and serene at some moments and energetic and urgent at other moments.

The duo came back together for one more number, a tango like affair to set the tone for an intermission. Upon retaking the stage, the same process was repeated with each artist taking solo numbers to finally bring the duo back for their finale. They played “Bésame Mucho”  and  then “Manhã De Carnaval”  that surprisingly morphed into “Stairway To Heaven.”

This was an enjoyable concert that hi-lighted two fantastic musicians who have a great chemistry. The audience would seem to have warmed up to the duo as the double encore confirmed. Here’s looking forward to more Latin musical treats at Flato Markham Theatre and the Minken Employment Lawyers, All That Jazz!

Photos by Atael Weissman

An independent journalist, based in Toronto, Canada. A professional musician and a fan of music, dance and the arts. I have written short stories, lyrics, poetry and reviews. I have been published in numerous online webzines. I’ve taught drumming and played in bands; I have felt the passion to create. I enjoy expressing that passion, the artistic experience, in words, reporting on the shows and musical experiences that I have witnessed.

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Concert Reviews

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

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On Thursday, October 13, 2022, representing two generations of Cuban Piano Masters, Hilario Durán and David Virelles got together at Koerner Hall, one of the most magnificent concert venues in Toronto. They were celebrating the release (in Canada) of their new recording Front Street Duets (Alma Records), a project they started working on at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto
Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Both artists were extremely happy of releasing their duet album after these past two years of the unimaginable worldwide health crisis. They were also excited to be in Toronto, and for being able to accommodate their busy schedules to perform their music in front of a very enthusiastic audience. Durán and Virelles expressed their utmost respect and admiration for each other. David from an early age considered Hilario as one of his musical heroes, a musical giant and influential figure in Cuba, in Canada and abroad. Hilario considers David as one of the most important Cuban pianist of his generation, a big star shining globally, from the highly competitive musical scene in New York.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The concert got started started with Epistrophy, the first tune copyrighted by Thelonious Monk, followed by Sophisticated Lady / In A Sentimental Mood, two compositions by Duke Ellington. Next, Durán and Virelles performed four tunes from their new album: 1. Danza Lucumí, (beautifully arranged by Virelles), a song written by Alejandro García Caturla, a Cuban composer who together with Amadeo Roldán, are considered the leaders of Afro-cubanismo, a nationalist musical trend that incorporates Afro-Cuban songs, rhythms, and dances. 2. Challenge, a new composition by Durán. 3. La Malanga (also arranged by Virelles), a composition by Calixto Varona, one of the most important composers from Santiago de Cuba from the XIX century. 4. Guajira For Two Pianos, the first track on the album Front Street Duet, a fiery composition written by Durán.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The first set came to an end with Airegin (an anadrome of Nigeria), a jazz standard composed by American saxophonist Sonny Rollins in 1954.

The second part of the concert started with a solo performance by David Virelles, Canción Estudio, composed by José Antonio “Ñico” Rojas, a prominent Cuban composer and guitarist, considered as one of the founders of the style of Cuban song called filin. Then it was Durán’s turn for an inspired solo performance of Autumn Nocturne (a notable composition written by Russian-born Josef Myrow with Kim Gannon). Durán had previously recorded this tune on his 1999 Justin Time Records release Habana Nocturna, a superb album that feature acclaimed saxophonist, flautist and bandleader Jane Bunnett, and drummer extraordinaire Horacio “El Negro” Hernández.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Next, both pianists performed a set of four pieces written by Hilario Durán for the recording Front Street Duets. 1. David’s Tumbao, a composition dedicated to David Virelles. Durán is well known for his fiery tumbao style when he’s playing. 2. Punto Cubano #1, inspired on the genre of Cuban music known as punto guajiro or punto cubano, a poetic art with music that became popular in the western and central regions of Cuba in the 17th century and consolidated as a genre in the 18th century. 3. Santos Suárez’s Memories pays tribute to the Havana neighbourhood where Durán grew up, where he fell in love with the piano and became a musician. It brings back cherished memories involving his upbringing, his family and close friends. 4. Milonga For Cuba, a very special tribute dedicated to the people who protested in Havana last summer 2021.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

For the encore, Durán and Virelles interpreted a wonderful rendition of Body And Soul, a popular song and jazz standard written in 1930 with music by Johnny Green and lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton. Body and Soul is the track that closes the album Front Street Duets, and also brought to an end a tremendous musical night at Koerner Hall in Toronto.

Photographs by Danilo Navas

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