Chucho Valdés is easily the living king of Cuban jazz piano. This anthology, issued by the premier Bele Bele Jazz Club label from Spain, is an overview of the roots of the pianist's development as both an interpreter of classic Cuban material and as an improviser. The first 12 tracks on the set, recorded in 1970, borrow heavily from the "feelings" movement of Cuban dancehall music from the late '40s and early '50s, with numerous compositions by Jose Mendez and César Portillo de la Luz. There are also trademark Valdés originals such as his own "Preludio No. 1," based on Debussy's. Other tracks here, from 1982, borrow from the later dancehall traditions and lineages such as the "Evocations" series written by
Jesus Valdez -- including one for Josh White! The first 12 cuts features Valdés with a stellar rhythm section that included bassist Orlando Lopez (Cachaito) and drummer Enrique Pla, and the last eight are solo. Through the album one can hear the far-reaching development of Valdés' rhythmic and harmonic sensibilities as they subvert and reinvent conventions, always keeping his deft, even ingenious melodic sensibility at the forefront of any interpretation or excursion. This is a wonderful introduction to Valdés' work outside of Irakere.