Chucho Valdés, piano; Armando Gola, bass; Paquito D’Rivera, sax; Diego Urcola, trumpet; Dafnis Prieto, drums, and Roberto Jr. Vizcaíno, percussion, at the Arsht Center, Miami, Saturday. Photo Fernando González ©  

From the moment it was scheduled, it was clear that the stop of Paquito D’Rivera and Chucho Valdés reunion tour at the Arsht Center in Miami, FL, would be a special date. “There’s only one other place this would be even more special,” said D’Rivera early on. Nothing more needed to be said. Many in the Cuban community here grew up on the island listening to the phenomenal Irakere, the group Valdés co-founded, directed, and for which he was the principal composer and arranger, and in which D’Rivera was a key player and composer. After more than 40 years of separation, these old friends were getting to perform together again, and the expectation was musical brilliance wrapped in a feel-good story — and that’s how it played out.

Ably supported by an excellent group featuring Diego Urcola on trumpet and valve trombone, Armando Gola on acoustic and electric bass, Dafnis Prieto on drums, and Roberto Jr. Vizcaíno on percussion, D’Rivera and Valdés didn’t settle for warm and fuzzy nostalgia. Instead, they used their telepathic communication to probe old favorites (“Mambo Influenciado,” “Claudia”) and a handful of new pieces; salute Venezuelan music (a dazzling guest turn by cuatro virtuoso Jorge Glem) and merrily wander off into “what-the-heck-let’s-try-this” improvisations. Their Mozart tribute invoked classical themes, turned them into blues calls, became a danzón, involved the audience in a singalong, and somehow found its way back to a, well, let’s call it a Caribbean Mozart, as irreverent as the old master was purported to be.


Still, notable, given the setting, the emotional charge surrounding this reunion, and the license to overplay from an adoring audience, was how the music, not individual look-at-me virtuoso displays, remained the message throughout the evening. Chucho Valdés and Paquito D’Rivera became lifelong friends, in part, because of a deep, shared love of music — and that’s what they celebrated: The music.

It seems an obvious and simple choice but, especially in these me-me times, it’s not.

Chucho and Paquito’s concert in Miami Saturday was a treat.