Tending the Family Fire

by Josef Woodard

chuchito-valdez.jpgAZZ CUBANA IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: In the past several years, Santa Barbara has had fair exposure to the Cuban-jazz pulse, and “pulse” is the right word. Jazz has benefited, directly and otherwise, from rolling, sensuous Cuban rhythmic influences for decades, and Cuban musicians have likewise found ways to feed the North American influence back into their own recipes. Thus we get the current crop of Cuban-born jazz musicians, like the great Gonzalo Rubalcaba — one of our greatest living pianists — and young drummer Dafnis Prieto, now living in New York and shaking things up.

We heard both artists live in town last year, in thrilling shows at Campbell Hall and SOhO, respectively. And then there’s the Valdés family trust. On Sunday night, the pianist Chuchito Valdés plays at SOhO, bringing his own fiery approach to the ivories. He also brings along a dedication to traditional Cuban-jazz music values as partly defined by his lineage; Chuchito is the son of Chucho and grandson of Bebo, both noted pianists who have played at Campbell Hall in the last four years.

Now 39, Chuchito, aka Jesús, moved from Cuba to Cancún, Mexico, 12 years ago, and has been amping up his musical life. He now has three albums out: Encantado, La Timba, and Herencia, which paint him as a modernist-meets-traditionalist, finding his way to a personal voice on the turf where profound family and national tradition meet with new ideas.

Meanwhile, there’s good news on the Bebo Valdés front. The legend, born in 1918 and an ex-pat based in Sweden since 1963, has just released not one but two lovely new recordings on Calle 54 Records: his first-ever solo album, Bebo, and a duet with violinist Federico Britos, We Could Make Such Beautiful Music Together (and they do). Bebo finds him deftly celebrating Cuban composers like Manuel Saumell Robredo and Ernesto Lecuona, while the duet album covers a wider waterfront, from jazz standards to music by Chucho, Jobim, Juan Tizol (the Ellington band member who penned “Caravan”), to a dash of Astor Piazzolla and Frederic Mompou (the “Spanish Satie”), finishing off with the fittingly sweet/tart Britos original, “Together.”

BASSO PROFUNDO: Charlie Haden (see interview, page 72) is one of those towering names in the semi-secret world of jazz, and one whose definition changes depending on each listener’s perspective. What can we make objectively of a musician who has inhabited so many different corners during the past 45 years? When he slips into something more comfortable with his band Quartet West at the Lobero on Wednesday, the socio-political overtones of last year’s Liberation Music Orchestra album, Not in Our Name, will be a moot point. Quartet West lays out sweet sonorities of bebop and odes to Haden’s beloved film noir (snippets of which have been flown into the tracks of their albums) and other music designed to seduce rather than inflame.

One amazing thing about Haden is his minimalist credo. Strip away the complex layers making up who he is and what he has done, and what gets to you is the simple, deep way he places a note. Like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, Haden knows the power of suggestion and the power of avoiding excess on the way to musical truths.

TO-DOINGS: Thirty years ago in the Granada Theatre — back in the day when they had concerts there — a young hotshot guitarist named Al Di Meola played speedy-smooth licks with the Chick Corea-led fusion band Return to Forever. Fast forward to next Monday at SOhO, and Di Meola finally returns to town, this time as a leader. Still speedy and smooth on acoustic and electric, he has a new album out, called Consequence of Chaos (Telarc), with Corea making a cameo, and cover art of Al photographed lounging suavely at Versace’s mansion in Miami. Fusion isn’t dead yet, it just has a swanky makeover. (Got e?

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