Live: Chucho Valdés and the Afro Cuban Jazz Messengers

 Berklee Performance Center, October 28
By JON GARELICK  |  November 3, 2010


Chucho Valdés’s first performance in Boston in seven years was the grand tour of Afro-Cuban Jazz that his fans in the sold-out Berklee Performance Center could have hoped for — especially based on the retrospective quality of his latest CD, Chucho’s Steps (Four Quarters Entertainment). The great Cuban pianist, composer, and bandleader was commanding at the keyboard, but this was really a virtuoso performance by his whole band, the Afro-Cuban Messengers.

Most of what they played was material from the new album, but as always, new details emerged live. On the CD, the syncopated clacking of percussionist Yaroldy Abreu Robles’s sticks against the side of his congas is the rhythmic spine of “Zawinul’s Mambo” (for the late Weather Report keyboardist and composer). Here, over the course of several minutes and several solos, Robles’s sustained attack took on a giddy coolness in its simplicity and perfection. Dreister Durruthy Bambolé’s two-headed batá drum and vocals brought the band’s music back to Africa; his son-montuno call-and-response patterns took them back to Cuba again. Reinaldo Melián Alvarez played beautiful trumpet all night, but his flugelhorn work had especially telling dynamics — not just phrases, but each note — even among flurries of notes — seemed to have a specific shape and attack. Tenor saxophonist Carlos Manuel Miyares Hernandez provided Ellingtonian warmth as well as Coltrane-like fire.

Durruthy, Bambolé, drummer Juan Carlos Rojas Castro, and bassist Lázaro Rivero Alarcón (on acoustic and electric) were the driving engine of this Afro-Cuban rhythm machine, but it was hard not to mistake Valdés conducting everything with the sound of his keyboard — whether joining Alarcón in spare accompaniment on the bass introduction to the evening’s first tune, or giving dance-floor oomph to the cha-cha-cha section of “Danzón,” or bringing down the house with his propulsive and eloquent solos, particularly on Ellington and Juan Tizol’s “Caravan.” Another treat was seeing Chucho’s four-year-old-son Julian do some break-dancing with Bambolé during the encore of “Los Caminos.” Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another seven years to hear Chucho live in concert again.

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  Topics: Live Reviews , Music, Berklee Performance Center, Berklee Performance Center,  More more >
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