Cuban pianist Chuchito Valdes has played many concerts and club dates in Chicago over the years, but rarely a set as sensitive and poised as the one he offered Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase.
Gone were the bombast and bluster that have diminished so many earlier performances. Instead of noise, Valdes made music.
Which is not to say that he didn't flaunt his technique a bit. But unlike uncounted previous occasions, Valdes didn't lean his foot on the piano's sustaining pedal, reducing everything to a blur. Nor did he hammer the keyboard as if trying to pound it into submission.
Instead, Valdes showed a degree of subtlety and control that Chicagoans rarely have heard from him, and it came as a relief.
Leading a fine trio featuring bassist Christopher Nolte and drummer Rafael Monteagudo, Valdes opened the evening with selections steeped in traditional Afro-Cuban dance rhythm. Though this music may have seemed simple and direct, its constant syncopations and graceful rhythmic sway are far more difficult to articulate than a casual hearing would suggest.
It takes a great deal of skill to dispatch this music as idiomatically as Valdes did, though he surely has genetics in his favor: His father is the Cuban piano giant Chucho Valdes and his grandfather the revered pianist Bebo Valdes (who died last March at age 94).
Valdes often performs Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," but this time he traded grandiosity for visceral excitement. His whirring lines, staccato chords and sustained rhythmic tension showed listeners just how much keyboard dexterity he commands.
Valdes' solo-fantasy on "Over the Rainbow" may have teetered close to nostalgia, but it never really crossed the line right into it. And though Valdes' free-flowing thoughts wreaked havoc with any sense of structure, there was no questioning the musicality or melodic urgency of his approach.
If this evening marked the start of a new artistic trajectory for Valdes, it was a welcome one. By playing with this kind of focus and purpose, Valdes lived up to the exalted standards of one of Cuba's most admired musical families.
Farewell Wayne Jones
Wayne Jones – an admired Chicago drummer who specialized in traditional or "trad" jazz – died Thursday morning at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, said Charlotte Jones, his wife. Jones was 80.
"There used to be a thriving trad scene (in Chicago) years ago, and Wayne was in the thick of it," said Chicago saxophonist Eric Schneider in an email. "He played with everybody and was first-call for that sort of thing for years. He's a part of Chicago jazz history that people should know about."
Jones nimbly kept time for several top-notch traditional jazz ensembles, including the Original Salty Dogs Jazz Band, James Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band and the Red Rosé Ragtime Jazz Band.
A wake will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Gibbons Funeral Home, 134 S. York Rd., Elmhurst.Chuchito Valdes Trio
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.
Admission: $25-$45; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com
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