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New Conceptions (2003)

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Chucho Valdés

Although pianist Chucho Valdés starts things off with a precise and danceable interpretation of Ernesto Lecuona's "La Comparsa" on New Conceptions, the classical and operatic themes explored on 2002's Fantasia Cubana: Variations on Classical Themes are largely implied this time around. Valdés is a superb classically trained technician with a lush ear for harmony. This, combined with an expansive knowledge of the jazz "tradition," allows him to craft solos that often touch on both late-era John Coltrane and the elegant athleticism of Art Tatum. He brings all sides to bear here on works by Miles Davis and Duke Ellington as well as some original compositions. Notably, the original ballad "Nanu" finds Valdés mixing Claude Debussy-like impressionism with Tatum-like blues runs against a plaintive cello solo from Maylin Sevila. Similarly, he turns Davis' "Solar" into a post-bop, Latin-style inferno featuring the explosive tenor sax of Irving Luichel Acao Tierra. Most impressive though may be his original mix of swing and Afro-Cuban rhythm patterns on "Sin Clave Pero Con Swing," in which, by moving from bop to blues to descarge to bolero, he deftly disproves the long-standing misconception that Afro-Cuban jazz must be played with a clave. By at once respecting and defying musical tradition, Valdés has crafted one of the most accomplished and invigorating albums of his career. ~ Matt Collar