Chuchito Valdes Afro-Cuban Ensemble | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Chuchito Valdes Afro-Cuban Ensemble


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Chuchito Valdes Afro-Cuban Ensemble

No, it's not a misprint. The same week that the grand old man of Cuban jazz, pianist Jesus "Chucho" Valdes, performs solo at Orchestra Hall, his son--pianist Jesus Valdes Jr., aka Chuchito--plays the first of several upcoming engagements with a Chicago band built around his considerable talents. A child prodigy raised in Havana and now living in Cancun, Chuchito has inherited more than his father's famous name: on an as-yet-unreleased recording made here last summer, he displays the hell-bent intensity and daredevil technique of the elder Valdes--qualities recognized worldwide as hallmarks of Cuban jazz. In terms of pure flamboyance, Chuchito can just about match his dad: he can raise a mountain of rhythmic intensity with a driving montuno, create flutelike filigrees in his fluttering right-hand figures, or stagger flashing chords at breakneck speed to build a kaleidoscopic improvisation. But he seems just as happy to play out a lyrical danzon with unfeigned humility--to throttle back a notch, in other words, and let the music breathe. He's not exactly poised to record a Cuban Birth of the Cool, but the relative spaciousness in his style does set Chuchito apart from most of his countrymen; it also suits his compositions, many of which lean toward mainstream jazz, as well as the band's occasional forays into non-Cuban material (such as Coltrane's "Giant Steps"). Any Latin-jazz group depends on the contributions of its leader, of course, but the drummer and lead horn man carry just as much weight; in Chuchito's Afro-Cuban Ensemble, two of Chicago's best--percussionist Ruben Alvarez and trumpeter Tito Carillo--fill those crucial roles. The sextet also features spirited (if not precisely targeted) solos from coleader Laksar Reese, an Australian-born saxophonist now based in Chicago. Friday, March 9, 7 PM, Kilbourn Park Auditorium, 3501 N. Kilbourn; 312-427-1676 or 312-742-7581. Also next Saturday, March 17, 8:30 PM, Concert Hall, Columbia College, 1014 S. Michigan; 773-539-8344.


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