Lázaro Valdés is a pianist of prodigious beginnings and of considerable musical pedigree. Although he played with an array of big bands, including one fronted by the iconic sonero Benny Moré, from 1958 until well after the great one passed in 1966, he is better known now as the leader of Son Jazz, an vibrant small ensemble through which he fires up his molten interpretations of Son, Timba, Danzón, Contradanza, dances that are infused with jazzy improvisations and classically suggested Afro-Cuban-like bagatelles, caprices and rondos. The simplicity of his playing belies a virtuoso pianist fully informed by The Tradition, yet leaning well into the modern styles.
The title of this album La Malagueña pays homage not simply to its composer Ernesto Lecuona, but sets off a tumbao bomb with erupts in the rhythms of the dance of the same name, but then quickly gives way to a series of dancing charts. One of the most memorable is “Permiso Señor Danzón” and the chart, “Siguaraya”, with its characteristic, roaring vocal by Solanch Salazar Bell, who leads a triumphant chorus in a beautiful rendition on “Lágrimas Negras”. Of course for the crowning moment of the disc we must wait until the end of it and the pianist’s proverbial doffing of the hat to Chucho Valdés (no relation) on “Mambo Influenciado” a rapturous twist on the Cuban and now a Jazz standard-in-the-making.
As a pianist Lázaro Valdés plays in the style that recalls the heyday of Afro-Cuban dance-traditions, but is woven into a heavy rhythmic, jazzy idiom all his own. He is beholden to no one in terms of his approach to music, but seems to have crafted a voice unique to how he hears music. It is a vocal style and his use of vocals and chorus to complement what he is doing on the piano as if he were the lead melodic line followed by harmonics from everyone else. This is perhaps why the bassists on the album appear to be cast as rhythmic pillars in the songs’ architectural edifices, leaving his percussionists to daub vertical splashes of colour.
Mr. Valdés’ florid right-hand figures with which the melodies are cast are directly descended from the stride pianists (and even George Gershwin) as well as the great Fats Waller and Art Tatum. However, putting a dramatic Cuban spin on these antecedents Mr. Valdés has been able to paint them over with a unique blend of music that is entirely of his own making and his rendition of “Mambo Influenciado” is a great testament to this. In its repertoire La Malagueña may not suggest a familiar musical angularity of the generation of young Cuban pianists, and if Lázaro Valdés’ is an older voice, then he certainly is not afraid to use it in all its melodic, harmonic and rhythmic erudition.
Track list – 1: La Malagueña; 2: Domitila; 3: Sonatina a lo Valdés; 4: Zunzun; 5: Permiso Señor Danzón; 6: Desayuno en la Cama; 7: Siguaraya; 8: Lágrimas Negras; 9: Lorena; 10: Rompiendo la rutina; 11: Mambo Influenciado
Personnel – Lázaro Oscar Valdés Espinosa: piano; Orlando Diego Nodal Barrera: drums, timbal, bongos and minor percussion; Solanch Salazar Bell: voice; Alain Verona Pérez: congas (1 – 6, 9); Osmaro Vega Arias: congas (7, 8, 10, 11); Hanselt Pérez Castillo: bass (7, 8, 10, 11); Yenly Medina Escalante: bass (1 – 3, 6, 9); Elizabeth Ochoa Domínguez: bass (4, 5); Yulaima Núñez Tejera: chorus; Mariset Fonseca Arévalo: chorus; Lázara Peña Hernández: chorus
Released – 2017
Label – EGREM
Runtime – 50:21