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Irakere was a band with a big sound, a sound captured once more in this tribute.

Music Review: Chucho Valdés – ‘Tribute to Irakere: Live at Marciac’

For the past two months, piano stalwart Chucho Valdés has been touring the United States with Irakere 40, a celebration of the famed Afro-Cuban ensemble he founded back in 1973, an ensemble which included musical greats the likes of Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. In conjunction with the tour, Jazz Village/harmonia mundi has released a collection of long-form compositions culled from an earlier European tour stop, August 15 in Marciac, France.

Photo: Francis Vernhet
Photo: Francis Vernhet

Working with his current group, the Afro-Cuban Messengers, here  supplemented with three trumpets and a couple of saxophones, Valdés is less interested in a nostalgic visit back to Irakere’s glory days than he is in building new wings on its foundation. Instead of looking to the original crew, now in his seventies, he has chosen to work with a younger set of musicians who have learned from what their elders have done and now can honor them by expanding horizons. It is music that honors both its African roots and its jazz explorations with a dynamic sound to be savored.

While the album begins with one of Irakere’s classic pieces, “Juana 1600,” there is also a focus on newer work like “Lorena’s Tango” and “Yansá.” The latter has the band working in a truly modern jazz idiom.

There is a fine rendition of “Congadanza” as well as a brilliant extended version, almost double the length at nearly 18 minutes, of “Afro-Comanche,” a piece with native American themes, both previously recorded with the Messengers on the 2013 Border-Free album. Valdés may be in his seventies, but if his piano work on “Afro-Comanche” is any indication, the man still can deliver the goods. “Afro-Funk” lives up to its title with a sound that plays to some of Irakere’s jazz and rock influences.

Irakere was a band with a big sound, a sound captured once more in this tribute. Let’s hope for some more tracks from the live performances.

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