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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

Bebo Valdes

By Jeff Tamarkin
Published January 28, 2008

Featuring the Legendary Vocalists
Malanga Music

Bebo Valdés defected in 1960, vowing never to return until democracy was installed. He kept his word, settling in Europe and not recording again until the mid-’90s (by which time his son Chucho, who stayed in Cuba, had long since become a formidable Latin piano innovator himself). This collection features recordings of varying fidelity that Valdés made shortly before his self-imposed exile. Exploiting a contractual loophole that allowed him to record instrumentals exclusively for the Decca label, Valdés ostensibly served as accompanist to various well-known Cuban vocalists on these boleros, rumbas and guarachas. Among the more prominent names are future Buena Vista Social Clubbers Pio Leyva and Omara Portuondo, but some of the more exhilarating tracks come from the flamboyant Celeste Mendoza, the versatile “Guapachá” Boreclá and the passionate Pacho Alonso. Without a doubt, though, it’s Valdés’s masterful piano work that is the glue: melodically and rhythmically he’s on the money—a “band member” any Cuban vocalist would welcome.