Chucho Valdés – Jazz Bata 2 (Mack Avenue Records, 2018)
Cuban pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Chucho Valdés’s Jazz Bata 2 is a recording where everything is right and wonderful in the musicscape of Latin jazz.
Encompassing the eclectic, the electric and the elegant, Jazz Bata 2 is where the lyrical of Mr. Valdés’s extraordinary piano meets the meaty richness of batá drum and percussion. On this, his first release on the Mack Avenue Records label, released on November 16th, Mr. Valdés opens the floodgates to a glorious ebb and flow of jazz punctuated by delightful Cuban and African influences.
To trace the creative thread of Jazz Bata 2, one must go all the way back to 1972 and Mr. Valdés’s Cuban album Jazz Bata with bassist Carlos del Puerto and batá player Oscar Valdés, both who would become members of the group Irakere. Now, Mr. Valdés has teamed up with Cuban musicians Yaroldy Abreu Robles on percussion, Dreiser Durruthy Bombale on batás and vocals and Yelsy Heredia on double bass. Mr. Valdés notes that this continuation of his creative journey of Jazz Bata now comes, “with more resources, in every sense” and “with a wider panorama.” The results are extraordinary.
Opening with “Obatála,” Jazz Bata 2 unfolds as a mesmerizing puzzle of shards of Mr. Valdés’s prodigious talents on the piano, rounded curves of double bass, textures of vocals and architectural constructs of percussion and batá. “Obatála” easily incorporates the free sleekness of jazz, the sweet soulfulness of Cuba and the rich recesses of the Yoruba traditions with the batá drums.
“Son XXI” is no less extraordinary with delicious bass, piano and sultry Cuban rhythms. It should also be noted that the recording itself is fabulous and a listen to the lushness of “Luces” and “Ochun” is evidence of the expertise put into the recording. The sassy “Chucho’s Mood” is certainly a standout with bass and batá solos.
Jazz Bata 2 is also a bit of a tribute recording to Mr. Valdés’s father and teacher Ramón “Bebo” Valdés. In celebration of the centenary of Bebo Valdés’s birth, and interestingly enough Mr. Valdés’s 77th birthday as father and son share the same birthday, Jazz Bata 2 contains the track “100 Años de Bebo.” A charmer with Cuba writ all over it, it also features guest violinist Regina Carter who adds sweetness to the tribute.
“El Guije” opens with some catchy rhythms and vocals before giving way to some hypnotic rhythms and piano lines and finally lapsing into some wonderful drumming and call-and-response vocals.
Jazz Bata 2 closes with “The Clown.” As lushly worked as the rest, this track is the piano playground by Mr. Valdés and is where piano lines curve, bend and turn themselves inside out in the most wonderful of ways.
If Jazz Bata 2 is the continuation of a creative journey the ride is more than fine.