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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

CHUCHO VALDÉS

By Michael Stone
Published April 26, 2006

Fantasia Cubana: Variations on Cuban Themes
Blue Note

Every release by pianist and composer Chucho Valdés promises a revelation. This solo outing delivers an eloquent blend of traditional Cuban, classical and jazz idioms with a vivid lyricism whose clarity resonates throughout. His work has always cultivated a certain romanticism, one whose inspirations include legendary pianist-composer Ernesto Lecuona, whose Cuban themes incorporated Spanish and classical elements as well. Valdés retools Chopin (“Prelude in E Minor,” “Waltz in A Minor,” and a Chopin-like interpretation of Lecuona’s lovely “Comparsa”), Debussy (“Reverie and Arabesque”) and Ravel (“Pavane for a Dead Princess,” in almost a Keith Jarrett vein), making these 19th century pieces uniquely and contemporaneously his own. Valdés counter-balances these works with his own compositions, including the reflective title track, with its sidelong references to Satie; the laid-back “Sunrise,” “Reverie” and “La Campesina”; the swaying, breezy “Tumbao”; the Monkish angularity and flamenco undertones of “Impromptu”; and the driving percussive groove of “Wakamba.” Fantasia Cubana testifies to the sustained vitality of Cuba’s dean of pianists, an artist whose creative horizons are still expanding after four decades at the keyboard.