Chucho Valdés / The Afro-Cuban Messengers

Chucho's Steps

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Veteran Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdés pays tribute to many of his mentors and peers on Chucho's Steps. The first hint of his intention comes with the instrumentation of a sextet also featuring Juan Carlos de Castro Rojo Blanco on drums, Lázaro Rivero Alarcón on bass, Yaroldy Abreu on percussion, Carlos Miyares Hernández on tenor saxophone, and Reynaldo Melián Álvarez on trumpet. Valdés dubs the band "the Afro-Cuban Messengers," thus referencing both Dizzy Gillespie's bebop orchestra and Art Blakey's hard bop band the Jazz Messengers. It's Gillespie who gets an initial nod in "Zawinul's Mambo," which, despite its title, is more suggestive of him than of Joe Zawinul. "Danzon" is a ballad that gives a showcase to Hernández, while "Begin to Be Good" (mixing elements of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" and George Gershwin's "Lady Be Good") does the same for Álvarez. "New Orleans" is subtitled "A Tribute to the Marsalis Family," and it has a Dixieland feel. The most African track on the disc is "Yansa," on which Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé provides keening vocals. "Julian" refers to the real name of Cannonball Adderley, and naturally it is in his soul-jazz style. The title tune, echoing John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," is cool jazz. None of these stylistic excursions is very strict, however. Valdés never loses his identity as a rhythmic Latin jazz pianist, and the Latin percussion nearly always maintains the band's true nationality. Still, this is a versatile set demonstrating the 68-year-old pianist's continuing vitality and invention, along with his reverence for the history of jazz.

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