Monday, November 9, 2015


Chucho Valdes
When pianist Chucho Valdes decided to do a retrospective tour in honor of Irakere, a famous  Afro-Cuban band he founded in 1973 that played a hybrid of jazz, rock, Cuban folk and dance music, and graduated heavy hitters such as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Valdes didn’t set his sights  on reuniting surviving members of Irakere. Instead, he assembled a group of hungry young Cuban musicians who grew up on a steady diet of Irakere music. Valdes, a multi-Grammy winner and a pioneer of Afro-Cuban jazz performed with nine of those Cuban musicians known internationally as the Afro-Cuban Messengers Sunday afternoon at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. The concert was  the second of the University Musical Society's jazz series. The concert was supposed to be an Irakere retrospective. The Messengers performed some Irakere’s staples such as “Misa Negra,” and “Bacalao Con Pan,” and new music written specifically for the current tour. The performance, however, resembled an exhibition of incredibly gifted musicians.When a member of the horn section soloed, the other members left the stage, allowing the audience to zero in on the soloist. There were awe-inspiring solos from Ariel Bringuez, who has a tone on tenor sax that's rich as chocolate cake, and. Rafael Aguila, who blew so forcefully, I feared his alto sax would explode in his hands. During Valdes’s  solos, it appeared four hands were playing the piano. He’s a percussive pianist, and he had the piano doing all sorts of magic tricks. The Messengers covered a lot of musical territory in the 90-minute set. The highlight occurred near the end of the concert when the Messengers served the audience a ragtime number dipped in Afro-Cuban juices, and then moved seamlessly into a blues. The near capacity audience went nuts. The Messengers have to be the most joyful ensemble on earth as if every member awaken every day loving being a Messenger. The rule of thumb is at the end of a killer set of music an audience shows its appreciation with a standing ovation. This audience thanked Valdes and his Afro-Cuban Messengers by dancing in the aisles.
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