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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

Bebo Valdez

By Michael Stone
Published December 15, 2006

Bebo de Cuba

Octogenarian Cuban pianist/composer/arranger Bebo Valdés helped forge the classic 1940s Afro-Cuban big band sound alongside fellow pacesetters like Armando Romeu, Julio Cueva and Cachao. Valdés left revolution-torn Cuba in 1960, worked in Mexico and Europe, married a Swedish woman he met on tour, and didn’t record again until the mid-1990s, when woodwind ace Paquito D’Rivera invited him to a seminal comeback session in Germany. Valdés reappeared in Spanish producer Fernando Trueba’s New York Latin jazz tribute, Calle 54, a film poignantly marked by his reunion with son Chucho, a founder of Irakere, and Cuban jazz trailblazer. Trueba subsequently documented Valdés’s riveting duet work with flamenco singer extraordinaire Diego El Cigala, and likewise filmed the present title’s making (a DVD documentary accompanies this two-CD studio session). New York’s finest Latin musicians—including D’Rivera, trumpeter Ray Vega, conguero Milton Cardona, bassist Andy González, saxophonists Bobby Porcelli (alto) and Mario Rivera (tenor), and trombonists Papo Vásquez, Juan Pablo Torres and Luis Bonilla, among many others—essay Valdés’s extended “Suite Cubana” and “El Solar de Bebo,” 10 sizzling improvisations on his compositions.