While you might have to wait until “My Reverie” on Disc Two to experience the full virtuosity of leader and pianist Chucho Valdés, it’s worth the wait. This 2-retrospective disc set of music is primarily a celebration of the music of Irakere the iconic Cuban band that was formed by the maestro himself, Chucho Valdes in 1973.
The band took its name from the word itself which meant “thick, dense jungle” in the Lucumi dialect of Yoruba. The music subsumed Jazz, Western European Classical music, together with music popular in the United States at the time, which was rock, funk of the day in the USA into its authentic Afro-Caribbean roots; its music evolving into a potent mix of Afro-Cuban music that later morphed – at least for a time – into a joyful, timba-playing dance band that also found a way to mix electronics into traditional Afro-Caribbean when few musicians even dared contemplate this.
The band really exploded onto the international music scene spawning superstars wherever it played, beginning with Mr Valdés himself, who came with a rich pedigree of being the son of the great Bebo Valdés, one of the greatest ever Afro-Cubans who led pioneering big bands in Cuba before first disappearing and then reappearing in Europe. The band also boasted such virtuoso musicians as clarinetist and alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval both of whom who bewitched Dizzy Gillespie to such an extent that he lured then (fairly easily, it would appear) out of Cuba and into his own iconic United Nation Orchestra. Also making a name for themselves as musicians were saxophonist Carlos Averhoff and bassist Carlos Del Puerto. But there was also rhythmic momentum that drove the relentless energy of the band’s music, and this was provided by a battery of percussionists led by drummers Enrique Plá and Bernardo García.
All of these musicians and a legion of Irakere alumni are heard on this 2-disc set. It may be a compilation of music fueled by the vision and artistry of Chucho Valdés, but it is brought to life by a host of virtuoso musicians who not only bought into this vision, but were able to bring it to life in music that “rocks” with visceral energy and excitement. All of this echoes throughout the music. The repertoire has been chosen from various periods in the bands existence up to 2006 when the disc was released in Cuba. If there are perceived gaps, this may be put down to the fact that the disc is now dated. The band continues to exist and its personnel have changed several times since the original members folded things in after Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval relocated to the United States. A brand new incarnation appeared during the 1990’s and was led by the piano-playing son of Chucho Valdés, Chuchito.
Sadly this package – though brimful with glorious music – will be a disappointment to the serious fan of Afro-Cuban music and Irakere’s legacy in particular. Despite a fine booklet essay that traces the band’s importance and its success there is no biographical and discographical information contained in the package. Things might change, however, as Sony has now taken over the Egrem catalogue and so hopefully more music that fuels the hunger among aficionados of modern Afro-Cuban music – including from the vaults of Irakere – will be released in the not-too-distant future. Until then there is ample time to enjoy this 2-Disc volume basking in the brilliance of its music which is a vivid storehouse not only of Chucho Valdés’ music, but also of performances – like that on “Estela va a Estallar” which features wonderful soloing from Paquito D’Rivera in addition to some exquisite ensemble playing from the rest of the brass and woodwinds sections; as well as the percussion colourists who also helped sculpt this powerful and beautiful music.
Track list – Disc One – 1: Misaluba; 2: Quindiambo; 3: Por Romper El Coco; 4: Dile A Catalina; 5: Que Se Sepa, Yo Soy De La Habana; 6: Los Caramelos; 7: Homenaje A Benny Moré; 8: Boliviana; 9: Por Culpa Del Guao; 10: Feliz Cumpleaños. Disc Two – 1: My Reverie; 2: Danza Ñañiga; 3: Misa Negra; 4: La Comparsa; 5: Los Ojos De Pepa; 6: La Vida Es Un Sueño; 7: Estela Va A Estallar; 8: Tierra En Trance; 9: A Chano Pozo; 10: San Francisco
Personnel (participating from the following musicians) – Chucho Valdés: piano, organ, keyboards and musical director; Carlos Emilio Morales: guitar; Jorge Varona: trumpet and valve trombone; Arturo Sandoval: trumpet; José Luis Cortés: flutes and vocals; Carlos Averhoff: soprano and tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and flute; Paquito D’Rivera: soprano, alto and baritone saxophones, clarinet and flute; Carlos Emilio Morales: alto saxophone; Carlos del Puerto:bass and tuba; Juan Formell: bass; Bernardo García: drums and percussion; Enrique Pla: drums; Carlos Barbón: percussion; Jorge Alfonso: tumba and percussion; Jorge Varona: percussion; Oscar Valdés: tumba, bongo (paila) and percussion; Carlos Barbón guiro, shekere and tambourine; David Calzado vocals; Pachito Alonso additional keyboards and backing vocals; various vocalists and other musicians not listed.