May 29, 2024

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Bobby Valentin: Mind of a Master will provide a revelatory introduction to his sophisticated Latin-jazz: Videos, Photos

Last Friday evening, I stopped in to see Harry Sepulveda. Harry is my main man for new and historic Latin music. (Ivan Acosta, too.)

I’ve known Harry since the early 1980s, when his Record Mart used to be near the BMT line in the Times Square subway station. Now it’s up by the shuttle to Grand Central Terminal. As Harry and I talked jazz and Latin music, he put one finger up. “Papa, you have to dig this.” Harry left and came back with Bobby Valentin & the LJ’s Mind of a Master (Bronco). Valentin, who’s known as El Rey del Bajo (or King of the Bass), has long been at the forefront of salsa and Latin jazz. [Photo above of Bobby Valentin]

Born in Puerto Rico in 1941, Valentin moved with his family to the U.S. in 1956. After studying the trumpet and flugelhorn, Valentin joined the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra in 1963. He arranged for Rodriguez and for other bandleaders such as Charlie Palmieri, Willie Rosario and Ray Barretto. In 1969, Valentin took up the bass. One night while touring with Rodriguez’s band, the bass player didn’t show up for a gig. So Valentin stepped in and figured it out.

Valentin began recording as a leader in 1965 when he released El Mensajero (the Messenger) and Young Man With a Horn. Both are superb. I have many of Valentin’s leadership albums. One of my favorites is Algo Excipcional (1985), a powerful salsa recording.

Recently, Valentin released Mind of a Master, a richly textured Latin-jazz album that shifts restlessly from one groove to another. There are adventuresome jazz adaptations such as Aaron Sachs’s Blast Off, which originally appeared on Louis Belson’s At the Flamingo Hotel, Vol. 1, in 1959. Valentin arranged it with a Latin feel. There also are stealthy Latin-jazz fusions, such as Coco Seco and the mid-tempo Smooth Ride, and beautiful ballads, including El Cumbanchero.

The album is a vivid showcase of Valentin’s many gifts as an arranger, composer, player and visionary who knows what he wants, musically, and finds the right musicians to deliver. And he always means business. The LJ’s in Valentin’s band stands for the Latin Jazzists.

Bobby Valentin - Algo Excepcional I
As journalist Jaime Torres Torres writes in the translated liner notes: “From the first mathematically precise measure of these charts, Valentin tells stories of singular lyricism and spirituality with Caribbean passion and romanticism, which we can appreciate in the sublime jazz ballad Endless Love, arranged and orchestrated for strings by Frankie Suarez, synthesized on the keyboards by Professor Orlando Santiago and a memorable and well-articulated solo by Bobby on the flugelhorn.”

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Joining Valentin on the album are Eliut Cintron on trombone, Angie Machado on trumpet, Angel Luis Torrez on alto saxophone, Eduardo Zayas on piano, David Marcano on drums and Javier Oquendo on conga. Guest musicians are Ivan Renta on tenor saxophone (on God Bless the Child and Blast Off), Jose Nelson Ramirez on organ (God Bless the Child) and the Orlando Santiago Strings Ensemble (on Endless Love).

If you’re unfamiliar with Bobby Valentin, Mind of a Master will provide a revelatory introduction to his sophisticated Latin-jazz. I just wish we all were fluent in Spanish. There’s so much great Latin music out there. Sadly, a great deal of it remains unknown or underappreciated by our culture at large because so many music fans are unfamiliar with the language and culture, and Latin record companies don’t have the budgets to reach us.

I can’t wait to pop in on Harry again soon.

Latin Gravy

Coco Seco

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