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Review: Bebo Valdés – Bebo de Cuba

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Artist: Bebo Valdés
Album: Bebo de Cuba
Release Date: September 20, 2005
Label: Calle 54
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Far greater than the best Cuban cigar, Bebo Valdés is without a doubt in my mind, the finest export to ever leave Cuba. The now 86-year-old pianist and composer was a house bandleader in the 1930s and 1940s at the famous Tropicana Nightclub in Havana. He inspired bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez, who would go on to develop a new musical style called Mambo. Bebo was/is probably the most critical element in the development of Afro-Cuban music and is credited for the Batanga rhythm. He left Cuba as the political climate became dire in 1960 and ended up in Sweden with no money or prospects, but his talent helped him make a living playing piano in hotel bars. In the year 2000 the Madrid-based director Fernando Trueba brought Bebo back from obscurity in the fantastic documentary film Calle 54, which includes Latin music greats like Tito Puente and Chico O’Farrill. It also featured the reunion of Bebo and his famous musician son Chucho Valdés who did not leave Cuba as Bebo did during Castro’s revolution.
Trueba introduced Bebo to Diego El Cigala, a talented Spanish Flamenco singer. The two collaborated on the 2003 disc “Lagrimas Negras“, which ended up being a smashing critical and commercial success. It won two Latin Grammy’s and five Spanish Grammy’s.

Bebo de Cuba” is scheduled for a U.S. release of September 20th, although you can buy the import now. The album has been nominated for a Latin Grammy in the “Best Latin Jazz Album” category. Honestly, if this record doesn’t win it would be a travesty. This is simply the best contemporary Cuban recording not only of the last year, but in my opinion, of all time. “Bebo de Cuba” contains two discs. The first, “Suite Cubana” includes a full big band and is a personal reflection on Bebo’s homeland and life, while the second “El Solar de Bebo” is a free-form jam that includes a smaller number of incredible musicians who are free to solo over the perfect foundation that Bebo built. Both discs are a crystal clear triumph. Bebo’s 85+ year-old fingers are as nimble as those 6 decades younger and his compositions are complex and beautiful masterpieces. The music was composed over the course of 5 years (between 1992 and 1997). And of course, you can certainly dance to many of them.

Bebo de Cuba” is the kind of album you will never tire of. One I would be confident in calling “timeless”. I don’t just throw around 5 star reviews. In fact, this is the first 5 star review I have given in 2005. The 2 discs of music are enough to make this set worth 3 times its price, but much more is included. Every detail is absolutely first class. The packaging is a beautiful double foldout complete with a 52-page booklet and 23 minute DVD, which gives you behind-the-scenes insight into the recording sessions.

Track Listing:

1. Ar Ni Froken Pehrson? (Intro)
2. Cachao, Creador Del Mambo
3. Devocion
4. El Son De Cecilio

5. Ecuacion
6. Copla N. 4
7. Nocturno En Batanga
8. Ar Ni Froken Pehrson? (Comparsa)
9. El Solar De Bebo
10. Kabul Y Lorenzo
11. A Mayra
12. El Quintin (Haciendo Patria)
13. La Mula
14. Rose Marie
15. Iballah
16. De Baracutey
17. Miriam
18. El Guajeo De Rickard

Robert Burke spends much of his time lovingly crafting thematic music playlists at the Rhapsody Radish.

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  • Diego Guillen -Australia

    I agree with Robert. “Bebo de Cuba” is one of the best Cuban recordings ever. I have been following Bebo’s career since “Calle 54”, and I own every single CD recorded since then. Another great recording is “El Arte del Sabor”, with Cachao and Papato. But “Bebo de Cuba” belongs to another genre, a brass band, and many wonderful musicians joined him on these CDs: Paquito d’Rivera, Milton Cardona, Diego Urcola, and many more.