When Old Man Bebo first disappeared from music in Europe and before he was re-discovered again by Paquito D’Rivera, his son Chucho Valdés began to emerge from the long and legendary shadow of his father. By the 1970s he first recorded an album at Egrem Studios in Havana that he called Jazz Batá (Malanga Music, 1972) as he was on the verge of stepping into the limelight with his iconic band Irakere. Today Chucho Valdés is a musician of unprecedented repute and stands virtually alone and head and shoulders above every living Cuban musician, indeed every living pianist playing Afro-Caribbean music. His oeuvre is so enormous that his repertoire forms a vast library of Afro-Cuban music just by itself. Moreover, he is one of the most prolific composers and seems to be able to step into a studio with new material at the proverbial drop of a hat.
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Significantly Chucho Valdés revisits his roots every once and a while and when he does so it is always a deep dive into the heart of Santería to invoke the Lucumi with the unbridled power of his existential music. Jazz Batá 2 is one such event when he circles back into his roots almost fifty years after the original Jazz Batá and seven years after another ferociously driven spiritual album, Lucumi. On Jazz Batá 2 maestro Valdés displays musicianship that burns like an all-consuming fire that cooks the music to perfection in the grand arpeggios and vaunted runs across the keyboard experienced through the repertoire but best experienced in the volatility of “Chucho’s Mood”. Here, as elsewhere he is able to turn the instrument of western invention into a battery of African drums. His ferocious attack provokes the young ensemble into doing likewise during their soli and it is here that the rhythmic power of the percussionists Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé and Yaroldy Abreu Robles becomes a thing of absolute beauty and magic. Here, too, we are treated to one of the finest solos on the record in the mighty rumble of the contrabass by Yelsy Heredia, who is one of the voices on his instrument to watch in this or any music today.
Chucho Valdés augments his quartet on a few of the other charts with the elegant violin playing of the inimitable Regina Carter. Her virtuosity is on full display in the bolero dedicated to Bebo Valdés entitled “100 Años De Bebo”, who may have missed that milestone by a whisker in life, but remains alive through his many innovations in Afro-Cuban music that far exceed those of his illustrious son. Nevertheless, the homage is a mighty one and Chucho Valdés displays his tumbao in the grand and inimitable manner as the bolero rumbles on during his seemingly interminable solo where ideas seem to flow like a river in flood. The chants that appear regularly (on “Obatalá” and “El Güije”, for instance) through the music remain uncredited but certainly add to the kinetic energy – not to mention the spiritual fervour – of this album to die for.
Jazz Batá 2 is a 20th Latin Grammy Awards Winner, Best Latin Jazz/Jazz Album
Track list – 1: Obatalá; 2: Son XXI; 3: Luces; 4: Ochún; 5: Chucho’s Mood; 6: 100 Años De Bebo; 7: El Güije; 8: The Clown
Personnel – Chucho Valdés: piano; Yelsy Heredia: bass; Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé: batás and vocals; Yaroldy Abreu Robles: percussion; Regina Carter: violin (4, 6)
Released – 2018
Label – Mack Avenue Records
Runtime – 56:16