There was a time when all my music-crazed friends and I thought Irakere was the next Santana. We spent hours grooving to their 1980 self-titled masterpiece, keying in on the hot piano player.
Pianist Chucho Valdes, 69, is the son of legendary Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes (91 and still going strong). Since Irakere, Chucho, as instrumentalist, composer, arranger and band leader, has made incredible albums filled with classical, swing, bebop, worldbeat, salsa, merengue and Latin Jazz.
Chucho’s Steps is his way of giving back and paying tribute to all who influenced him, right down to the name of the band (for Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers) and the name of the album (for John Coltrane’s Giant Steps).
For his first all-new studio album in seven years, Chucho’s piano leads a bass/drums/percussion/more percussion/tenor saxophone/trumpet lineup on seven poppin’ action-packed tracks and one bluesy lullaby, “Julian,” for his son.
“Zawinal’s Mambo” starts it off with over 11 minutes of variations on the theme of keyboardist Joe Zawinal’s work with Weather Report.
“New Orleans” has that French Quarter feel as an ode to the First Family of Rampart Street, the Marsalis clan.
“Yansa” is positively tribal with its mélange of chanting voices buoyed by hard-hitting congas and bongos.