Human history – as Gilgamesh, Homeric epics, Biblical narratives and other sagas – will tell us, is a series of events where characters, as often as not, get ahead of themselves, believe that what they see ahead of themselves is real and not the mirage that it turns out to be. After a series of hairpin bends, the proverbial U-turn takes place. Reconciliation ensues and amid some – often miraculous – mid-course correction, “normal service resumes”. This could easily be the story, as some would say the return of the great Bebo Valdés, one of the most influential musicians in Afro-Caribbean music.
After Bebo Valdés began performing professionally sometime in the 1940s, he replaced René Hernández in one of the leading dance bands in Havana. He never looked back, gaining fame [in 1946] as the composer of the iconic mambo “Rareza del siglo”. Quite thereafter, he became pianist and arranger for Rita Montaner, at the famous Tropicana in Havana, a remarkable run that lasted nine years during which he and his band also came to perform with singers Benny Moré and Pío Leyva. In between, Bebo Valdés made recordings with Nat King Cole, melded Jazz into his unique brand of Afro-Caribbean music and even reinvented mambo in the form of batanga, premiered at the Tropicana in 1952. Then, in 1960, while on tour in Europe he fell in love again, “It was like being hit by lightning,” he said. “If you meet a woman and you want to change your life you have to choose between love and art.” That marked 36 years of anonymity, virtually all of it spent in domestic life in Sweden.
Meanwhile, his eldest son, Chucho Valdés, who’d cut his proverbial teeth in his father’s band as a young man, was gaining fame in Cuba as an artist of the first order. In the years since his father left Cuba, Chucho has already recorded an album as leader in 1964, and he – by 1965 – became a fulltime bandleader. In the ensuing years he recorded with Alberto Giral on trombone, Julio Vento on flute, Carlos Emilio Morales on guitar, Kike Hernández on double bass, and formed small ensembles which included legendary Cuban musicians, Paquito D’Rivera, Cachaíto or Carlos Del Puerto, Enrique Plá or Guillermo Barreto. Later he became a charter member of the famous Cuban big band, Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna. In 1973 he founded the group Irakere, a legendary ensemble, one of Cuba’s best-known Afro-Cuban jazz bands and certainly one of the greatest Latin-Jazz bands in the world.
After a long estrangement, and two independent sojourns that took them to virtually opposite ends of the world, Bebo Valdés and his son Chucho reconciled and actually met a couple of times. But it was another Cuban, Paquito D’Rivera who coaxed Bebo Valdés out of “retirement” and became instrumental in the legendary pianist and composer’s first recording in 36 years. Bebo Rides Again was recorded with members of Mr D’Rivera’s celebrated band in 1994; the film Calle 54 by Fernando Trueba, followed in the year 2000, with another brilliant recording, El Arte del Sabor in 2001, which reunited Bebo Valdés with other great Cuban musicians – Carlos “Patato” Valdés and Israel López “Cachao” forming the Bebo Valdés Trio, featuring Paquito D’Rivera. Bebo Valdés then went on to record Lágrimas Negras in 2003 with the Flamenco cantaor, Diego El Cigala, followed by the monumental double album Bebo de Cuba in 2006. Each of the recordings were Grammy Awards winners.
One of Bebo Valdés’ last musical productions was fittingly recorded with his son and – even more fittingly [and, naturally, rather sentimentally entitled]: Juntos para siempre [Together Forever, 2008]. This recording is also one of the most celebrated recordings by Bebo Valdés and has won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album at the 52nd Grammy Awards in 2010. This recording also won the Latin Grammy Award on the same field. Awards aside, this recording is a truly beautiful one, featuring two magnificent pianists from two different eras of music united not just as being father and son, but by a mutual respect for each other, and whose individual voices seem to complement each other to such an extent that they seem to be narrating a common musical history, the chapters of which are told – on this occasion, one harmonic variation at a time, the voices of Bebo Valdés and Chucho Valdés seamlessly entwined in the common narrative of a continuum with vivid musical imagery born of the immense courage and the pianistic finesse of each pianist imbuing the repertoire with a myriad sensitivities.
The grasp of the Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American Jazz prosodies allows each musician the melodies that made the musical histories of both styles sing with uncommon songfulness. Intellectually and emotionally father and son make each piece theirs in very special way, communicating as if in secret, from brain to brain, mind to mind as well as from heart to heart. You hear this in Bebo Valdés’ iconic piece “Rareza del siglo” as well as in the staple of pianists down history – “Tea for Two” and Juan Tizol’s chart that became famous with Duke Ellington’s orchestra – “Perdido”. The latter pieces feature artistically brilliant soli by both pianists with opening riffs effortlessly sweeping up and down the keyboard with every harmony intact. Each of the songs is reignited when the pianists play off each other, developing ideas into a masterful contiguous whole.
Despite bringing so much virtuosic piano firepower to a single date, this is no macho wham-bang fest. Rather this is gentle storytelling – the narratives being told as if Bebo Valdés and Chucho let each piece breathe, controlling the ebb and flow of each piece with enormous skill. Naturally need pianists of enormously flexible technique and a large portfolio of nuance to bring all of this off [check out both Chucho Valdés’ towering performance on “Preludio para Bebo” and Bebo Valdés returning the favour on “A Chucho”. Each offers a different tonal spectrum and rhythmic attack; each sparkles with a life of its own]. Together the performances of both Bebo Valdés and Chucho Valdés are agile, tonally rich, spiky and brilliant. This is one of the most characterful and musically engaging piano recordings – solo or [especially] duo. This, in turn, is born of a connection that can only come from musicians whose hearts beat as one, together also taking our collective breaths away on an album flowing with the glorious music of Cuba that is at once traditional and modern, in a river of musical history.
Track list – 1: Preludio para Bebo; 2: Descarga Valdés; 3: Tres palabras; 4: Rareza del siglo; 5: Tea for Two; 6: Son de la loma; 7: la gloria eres tu; 8: A Chucho; 9: Sabor a mí; 10: Perdido; 11: Lágrimas negras; 12: La conga del dentista
Personnel – Bebo Valdés: piano; Chucho Valdés: piano
Released – 2009
Label – Calle 54 / Sony Music Latin
Runtime – 54:12
This album, Telecommunications, is one of the most iconic recordings by Azymuth, the ineffably funky Brasilian trio. When it was released – on the Milestone label in 1982 – it became a monumental hit, propelling the group, it went Gold and exploded into the Top 10 in the British Charts, soaring heavenward in popularity all over Europe too.
It’s not hard to understand the extraordinary popularity of Azymuth. First and foremost has to be the unmatched funkiness of all the musicians who made up the original trio: keyboards superstar, vocalist and percussionist José Roberto Bertrami, who sadly passed away on July 8th 1012, Ivan Mamão Conti, who just has to be considered one of the most funky drummers since Zigaboo Modeliste, [who practically invented funk drumming as one of the illustrious members of the iconic New Orleans group The Meters], and bassist Alex Malherios whose rumble and roar made for the glue [together with Mamão] that solidified the rhythmic edifice of the trio, while the soloist [particularly, Bertrami] launched himself on his mighty solo flights.
It may have been the syncopation of choro that carried over into Brasili’s most iconic urban music and dance forms – samba, a versatile rhythm that can assume many forms. Heated up, with a shouted call-and-response verse backed by literally thousands of samba-school drums on parade, it becomes samba de enredo [the mass Carnival music that is famous the world over]. But what happens when you take the vocals out of the musical equation, funk up the rhythm, add a rumbling electric bass guitar and jazz up the rippling Brasilian percussion?
That’s when you get the funkiest music that became the clarion call of Brasilian funk music ensembles, of which Azymuth was probably the most famous, plying its stock-in-trade at all the major jazz festivals – from the Americas to Europe – Monterey to Montreux and way beyond. The music on this seminal album, Telecommunications is characteristic of Azymuth at its very best. The repertoire came at a time when this heavyweight trio had reached the apogee of the musical style that continues to be a niche. A style that it had carved out for itself, with an eclectic, jazzy mix of Brasilian rhythms upon which were overlaid dallying soli by Mr Bertrami and Mamão, together with the rumbling bass of Mr Malherios.
Telecommunications’ opener “Estreito de Taruma” features a filing solo by the great Brasilian guitarist Helio Delmirio. The warm sonority, clean technique and penchant for spare ornamentation in his playing made him a guitarist like none other to come out of the raging flood of guitarists that cascaded out of the ocean of Brasilian music. The music that Mr Delmirio sculpted, from the steel strings at his fingertips, made the musical notes fly off the paper. His lines floated askance, oblique to the not so predictable keyboard playing by Mr Bertrami.
Throughout the two sides of this vinyl –superbly remastered by George Horn, by the way– we find music that is a testament to the musicians’ [and composers’] boundless invention. This music is replete with a wide expressive range and technical challenges, not to mention the fact that once all of the musicians have had their say, a musical structure is constructed that defies logic, convention and other well-worn stylistic hooks. So monumental is the music’s cachet. Mr Bertrami’s “Last Summer in Rio” and the wistful finale – “The House I Lived In” [together with its “Prelude” – as a finale, no less] is typical of the brooding, tumbling groove that Azymuth created for itself – a sound so unique among [any] other musicians from the 1970’s onward, is yet to be imitated, copied or otherwise reproduced by Brasilian artists other than Azymuth.
Tracks – Side A – 1: Estreito de Taruma; 2: What Price Samba [Quanta Vale um Samba]; 3: Country Road [Chão de Terra]; 4: May I Have This Dance? [Concede me Esto Dança?]. Side B – 1: Nothing Will Be As It Was [Nada Sera Como Antes]; 2: Last Summer in Rio; 3: The House I Lived In [A Casa em Que Vivi]; Prelude
Musicians – José Roberto Bertrami: organ [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1-3], keyboards [Side A 2, 4; Side B 1, 2], vocoder [Side A 3, 4], vocal [Side A 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1]; Alex Malherios: electric bass [Side A 1, 4; Side B 2], fretless bass [Side A 2, 3; Side B 2]; bass guitar [Side A 4], and acoustic guitar [Side A 3]; Ivan Mamão Conti: drums [Side A 1, 2, 4; Side B 1, 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 3]; Special Guests – Helio Delmirio: electric guitar [Aide A 1; Side B 2]; Aleuda: percussion [Side A 3, 4; Side B 1]; Dotô: repique [Side A 2]; Cidinho: percussion [Side B 2]
Released – 1982
Remastered and Released (vinyl) – 2022
Label – Milestone 
Jazz Dispensary – 
Runtime – Side A 19:21 Side B 21:43
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