Chucho Valdez, the most renowned jazz musician in his native Cuba, exhibited at Royce Hall a penchant for torrential runs of pianistic bravado, sustained percussive exercises in call and response with his top-flight rhythm section, and a way of filtering myriad styles of jazz through his uniquely Cuban musical sensibilities.
Valdez co-founded the Orquestra de Musica Moderna in the late ’60s and subsequently formed Irakere, the now legendary group whose dual identity as a popular dance band and intensely virtuosic jazz group transformed Cuban popular music. At Royce, Valdez fused the Afro-Cuban spirit with a broad jazz outlook, mixing such styles as mambo, guaracha and rumba with the kind of percussive piano playing associated with Chick Corea, Cedar Walton, Art Tatum and Cecil Taylor.
His backing — Francisco Rubio on upright bass, Roberto Viscaino Guillot on congas and timbales, and Raoul Pineda Rogue on trap drums — accommodated the set’s amazing shifts in tempo and mood, matching Valdez’s flair for showmanship but not taking the spotlight from the pianist. If Valdez revealed occasional lapses into floridness and a reluctance to squeeze in a ballad here and there, the energy and playfulness of his set was absolutely infectious.
Not surprisingly, the music of Ivan Lins — ostensibly the headliner who closed the show — came off a bit anti-climactic. A popular crooner and keyboardist from Brazil who mixes the reflectiveness of balladry with the more stirring elements of bossa nova, Lins displayed a remarkable range and tunefulness in his playing and singing.
Understandably, this music has captured the attention of Quincy Jones and various fusion groups, but made for a middle-of-the-road contrast to Valdez’s ferocious boundary stretching. Nevertheless, Lins played the kind of set custom-made for date night and for those who don’t shy away from unadulterated romanticism.