From l. to r. Chucho Valdés, piano; Ramón Vázquez, bass; Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, batá drums and vocals; and Yaroldy Abreu, percussion and vocals.
Maestro Chucho Valdés is 77 and clearly not inclined to waste time.
Leading his Jazz Batá Quartet at an outdoors free concert in Hollywood, FL, Saturday night, the pianist and composer offered an uncompromising set, dazzling technically, demanding on the audience, and intense throughout.
Clearly, you don’t become Chucho Valdés by taking it easy now and then.
Most of the program was drawn from his latest recording, Jazz Batá 2, and the material served as a starting point from which to probe and explore. Sometimes in the span of a piece, for example, Valdés would set out to examine connections. He announced his intentions before “Lorena’s Tango” — and then he took the audience on a trip from old-style tango to the African roots of the genre and back. But later, he did it almost casually in a performance of “Ochún,” a song to a deity of Santeria that subtly turned into a Sunday morning gospel song. Just as you realized what was happening, the hymn vanished in the humid air and we were back before Ochún. And Valdés also teased jazz fans with fluid, post-bop moments and an angular, forceful nod (or two) to Cecil Taylor, one of his idols.
All that said, the performance also had its lighter moments — a dancer joining in, with a piece in progress, unplanned. (Call it an unexpected salute to Tropicana); a call-and-response between audience and stage; and an encore that included the irresistible “Bacalao Con Pan” — with Valdés doing some of the singing, no less.
If someone was expecting just a light fare and old hits to pass a couple of hours outdoors on a hot and humid summer night, well, sometimes you get more than what you expected — even if you didn´t know you wanted it or you needed it.
We should always be so lucky.