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Fantasia Cubana - Variations On Classical Themes (2002)

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Chucho Valdés

As one of Cuba's greatest Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz pianists and long an important bandleader, Jesús Chucho Valdés has earned international renown and a devoted audience of jazz fans. However, the imaginative composer and virtuosic improviser does not waiver from his ability to interpret acknowledged classics. Fantasia Cubana: Variations on Classical Themes demonstrates this attribute and reveals Chucho Valdés in peak form. He pays homage to Ernesto Lecuona, the concert pianist and founder of the Havana Symphony who is generally recognized as the most important Cuban musician of the first half of the 20th century. The recording includes 14 compositions with three completely different takes of "Chopin: Three Faces of Lecuona: La Comparsa." Valdés, who performs in a solo setting on this recording, also plays a set of colorful, gentle originals, including "Sunrise," the title track, "La Campesina," and a very percussive "Wakamba." His mastery of polyrhythms is remarkable and his wonderful variations on classical themes uplift the music to how the original composers might enjoy them or change them to reflect the impact of the 21st century. These songs are also a powerful tribute to the enormous influence of Zenaida Romeu (who taught him classical piano) and his North American jazz pianist influences, McCoy Tyner and Oscar Peterson. ~ Paula Edelstein