Chuchito Valdes Dazzles Jazz Live

Cuban firebrand pianist Chuchito Valdes wowed a packed SD house recently

KSDS Jazz 88, and their flagship concert series Jazz Live really blossoms during the summer months, with the station presenting on a bi-monthly basis during June and July. And on June 10 at San Diego City College's Saville Theatre, Cuban firebrand pianist Chuchito Valdes dazzled a packed house with a solo program that ranged from tender melodies to infectious dance rhythms.

Valdes began "Monte Arriba," with pastel harmonies and rippling cascades, humming an independent melody, a la Keith Jarrett, with whom he shares a surprising amount of affinities. He took his time building to a powerful vamp, increasing the pulse with intricate flourishes.

"Guaguanco Montuno," leaned on grand classical gestures in a lush ballad setting before opening up into wild, kinetic energy that found the pianist playing on his feet, as if the music had lifted him up. There was a similar romantic motif present in "Paola," where languid phrases glimmered like bright stars in a misty skyline.

The Cuban heart was well represented by Valdes’ explosive left-hand on "Regresando a mi Casa," a wicked vamp supported by a stomping right foot, which the pianist followed by almost leaving the planet entirely with a manic interpretation of "Take The ‘A’ Train," where he seemed to be channeling the spirit of Jaki Byard by mixing stride, barrelhouse and swing bluesology into a graduate course on irresistible motion.

There was a surprising amount of delicacy in the evening, perhaps best characterized by his gentle reading of "Over the Rainbow," and a wonderfully folkish blend of Abdulla Ibrahim and Vince Guaraldi on "Beautiful Chantela," but for me, the highlight came on the penultimate selection, "Palabras de Piano," where he seemed to pull all of the elements of classic Latin jazz into a satisfying whole, culminating with a two-handed percussion workout delivered on his feet while striking the inside structure of the house instrument.

The crowd went nuts, and you can hardly blame them.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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