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Briyumba Palo Congo (1999)

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Chucho Valdés

Chucho Valdés comes roaring out of the jewel box again with a stupefying demonstration of piano technique and musical sense allied with a hot-as-sun Cuban rhythm team. In sync with North American preoccupations in 1998 and 1999, this album spends a good deal of time commemorating the centenaries of the Gershwins and Duke Ellington. "Caravan" is given a super-convoluted Afro-Cuban treatment, while "Embraceable You" is unabashedly sentimental and the mambo break in "Rhapsody in Blue" could have come out of a 1956 Havana casino. The rest of the CD is devoted to various Valdés originals where the pianist's eclectic antennae pull in some unexpected signals. The cooking "El Rumbón" may mean "The Party" but the melody is closely related to, of all things, "You Are My Sunshine," and "Bolero" has a reminiscence of Chopin in the solo section. The rhythm section (Francisco Rubio Pampin, bass; Raúl Piñeda Roque, drums; Roberto Vizcaino Guillót, congas) consistently charges up Valdés, though this time the pianist's work does betray a bit of slickness here and there. Joaquin Olivero Gavilón adds some authentic Cuban wooden flute to "Rhapsody" and there are incantory voices on the title track. Again, this disc had to go through insane political contortions for its U.S. release, as it was recorded in Havana, it was released through the auspices of EMI Music Canada -- but at least we have it. ~ Richard S. Ginell