by Josef Woodard

chuchito-valdez.jpgAZZ CUBANA IN THE
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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