Chucho Valdés has attracted considerable attention and legions of fans as he bridged conflicting political systems; classical European harmonies and percussion-based celebration; the cultures, separated by just 90 miles of water, of Cuba and the United States; and Latin music and jazz. The common elements that Valdés brings together are humanity and African rhythms, which have found expression in Cuban Santería observances and American blues and jazz.
That synthesis is evident throughout New Conceptions,
more so than on previous Valdés CD’s, which had concentrated on one genre over another. Almost alternating Latin composition with jazz standards from one track to the next--and then merging the results--Valdes, with exquisite showmanship and inimitable technique, makes the music his own with thrilling dynamics, rippling glissandos, thundrous climaxes, hushed ballads, irresistible clavé and unparalleled technique utilizing block chord movement at one moment or polyrhythmic mixing it up the next.
For instance, Dreiser Durruthy’s Yoruban chant on "Los Guiros," evidence of the Cuban integration of religion with music, yields to Valdés’ superimposing a brief reference to Dave Brubeck’s 9/8 "Blue Rondo a la Turk" over the swaying 6/8 meter set up for the main section of Valdés’ composition. The classic combination of genres comes to remarkable fruition on the CD’s final track, "Homenaje a Ellington." Beginning with a subdued version of "Satin Doll," Valdés’ group doesn’t give a hint of the excitement brewing to end the Ellington medley. Ever rising in intensity and complexity, the quartet’s interpretation of "Caravan"--joined by the tenor sax of Irving Luichel Acao Tierra of Irakere and an entire chorus and percussion ensemble--creates a carnival atmosphere, complete with bells, whistles and congas.
One track presents Valdés’ "Nanu," a calming and richly colored song developed in a way that takes advantage of the piano as a stringed instrument (as opposed to Valdés’ frequent use of it for percussiveness), especially when Maylin Sevila counters and complements Valdés’ reippling exposition with a warm, rich interpretation of her own. Then, Valdés plays the next track, Miles Davis’ "Solar," with extroverted swing appropriate to the tune, mixing in ingredients of montuno with Tynerisms, as Valdés’ incredible technique lets loose with the potential for excitement for which he is know. Eventually, Davis’ "Four," based on the same changes, emerges as an interlude the slowly grows from a meditation single-noted melody to into a rumbling Latin solo interpretation that in itself makes the track worthwhile.
Speaking of swing and clavé, Valdés inasmuch anticipated the discussion about the integration--and separation--of styles when he wrote "Sin Clave Pero Con Swing," which translates to mean "without clave but with swing." As if to disprove notions about the "necessity" of clavé in order for Latin music to be Latin music, Valdés abandons the expected element associated with Latin music and combines walking-bass-like swing with a clavé-less improvisation on the same changes with nonetheless irresistibility.
Then, "Sin Clave Pero Con Swing" becomes emblematic of the entire CD, which is one of Valdés’ most enjoyable with broad appeal in his recent series of releases. The joy in his playing is evident in each track, and more importantly, he makes his music entirely accessible without compromising the quality of his interpretations or the complexity of his technique.