Arguably the greatest Afro-Cuban percussionist that ever lived (bar Tata Güines, perhaps), Carlos “Patato” Valdés is, also one of the greatest showmen of the congas, who often dances atop the tuned congas that he is also credited with inventing. Although he did not give Brigitte Bardot such a dangerous instruction as that in And God Created Woman, he did give the legendary actress a mambo lesson in the film. His virtuoso percussion colouring graced some of the greatest ensembles in Cuba and beyond from the mid-1940’s until his death in 2007. This disc entitled Masterpiece does not seem to have been received with the greatest of respect as some of Patato’s other works, which is unfair as the percussionist dazzles with his virtuosity in every song that is part of this repertoire.
Perhaps the reception may have something to do with the eclectic nature of the selection of songs. However, Patato made such an enormous contribution to Jazz as well – with performances on such iconic discs as Max Roach’s Percussion Bitter Sweet (Impulse! 1961) and Sonny Stitt’s Sonny Goes Latin (Roost, 1963) – playing starring roles in each of the scores of Jazz recordings on which the percussionist appeared. He also appeared with Tito Puente for several years and made at least three important discs with El Rey, including Puente in Percussion (Tico, 1956). Every time Patato hit the studio or stage, he left an indelible mark on the music that flowed from his fertile musical brain through his fingertips.
On Masterpiece his selection of music reflects the breadth of his musical associations until the 1980’s. His playing, though, is neither finicky nor a dryly literal playback of familiar scores. But using his considerable virtuoso skills he makes each tune sound utterly new. Neal Hefti’s “Cute” is a case in point, for Patato’s conception of building texture takes the form of deliciously insouciant lingering in the notes of his solo. Later, without resorting to mannerism, Patato remains steady in the opening of “Tonan Che Cabildo A Ochún” and then brings a breezy lyricism to the rest of the piece. He does likewise on “El Montuno De Patato” where his melodic inflection is curvaceous, natural and discreetly sensuous; the tonal palette discreetly refined.
Of the many surprises is the appearance of Ronnie Cuber, who puts down his heavy baritone saxophone and soars beyond the infinite on soprano saxophone on “Cute” and “Comelon”; and Michel Camilo who also graces both songs. Jerry González (together with his brother Andy) sets the music aflame on three songs including a memorable version of “Reflexionado”. Whatever he touches, Patato’s playing is blessedly free of that metre-driven angularity and stasis that have increasingly beset performances since he blazed a perfect trail across the musical stratosphere. In addition, as with everything on this disc, Patato brings a truly epic sense of drama to music and that will forever be missed in music.
Track list – 1: Adios Pampa Mia; 2: Cute; 3: Reflexionando; 4: Felice Navidad; 5: Comelon; 6: Tonan Che Cabildo A Ochún; 7: Nica’s Dream; 8: El Montuno De Patato; 9: A Los Pianistas
Personnel – Carlos “Patato” Valdés: co-producer, congas, tambores (4), batá (6) and vocals (9); Artie Webb: flute (1), 7, 9); Jorge Dalto: co-producer and piano (1, 3, 7 – 9) and coro (9); Joe Santiago: bass (1, 2, 5, 7 – 9); Nicky Marrero: timbales (1, 7 – 9) and percussion (6) and coro (6, 9); Steve Berrios: drums (1, 4, 7, 9), batá (6) and güiro(8); Nestor Sanchez: coro (1); José “El Canario” Alberto: coro (1, 8); Rodrigo Siens: coro (1, 8); Ronnie Cuber: soprano saxophone (2, 5); Michel Camilo: piano (2, 5); Ignacio Berroa: drums (2); Vicentico Valdés: vocals (3); Rolando Briceño: flute (3, 8); Jerry González: trumpet (3, 7, 8) and tambores (4); Andy González: bass (3); Charlie Santiago: bongos and maracas (3), guiro (5) and percussion (9); Orlando “Watusi” Castillo: lead vocals and La Paranda chorus (4), coro (6, 9); Sabú Martinez: batá , (4)tambores (4) and coro (6); Wilfredo “Moreno” Tejada: batá (6), tambores (4); Anna Matienzo: tambores (4) and coro (6); Frandith: tambores (4) and coro (6); Pablito Rosario: tambores and claves (4); Nestor Torres: coro (8)
Released – 1984 and 1985
Label – Messidor/Timba Records (Timba 59794-2)
Runtime – 56:21