REVIEW: Chucho Valdés at Kings Place (2014 EFG LJF)

Chucho Valdés.
Photo credit: Carlos Delgado/ Creative Commons


Chucho Valdés Solo
(Kings Place Hall One. 21st November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Second night of three. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Irresistible, unforgettable. The 73-year old Cubn-born pianist Chucho Valdés (full name Dionisio de Jesús Valdés Rodríguez) mesmerised a packed and satisfied Kings Place Hall One with what we tend lazily to call a masterclass (his almost wordless way of doing one of those - in the afternoon prior to the concert - is explained below).

To learn an artistic credo from Valdés, one need look no further than one telling gesture in the interview he did on video for Kings Place in June. At two key points, when he uses the word "compatibiles" those huge hands interlock. (LINK HERE). Valdés' recital was a demonstration of how different strands in music - jazz, Afro-Cuban, classical -  do indeed become compatible under those hands.

With the massive orchestral sound he is capable of deriving from a Steinway, he also used the bright acoustic of Kings Place Hall One as his instrument. This hall was designed for music to be played unamplified, and to let the colours come out, and it was a joy to hear it resonate with such a carefree demonstration of the art of fine piano playing. The 1929 Gershwin tune Liza/ All the Clouds Roll Away, played with infectiously hard swing, seemed to sum up the character of the man.

The juxtapositions are extraordinary. In Jerome Kern's Yesterdays, both Beethoven and Rachmaninov seemed to be invited onto the stage. In Arlen's Over the Rainbow, we not only had Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, but also a few safely-grazing arpeggiating sheep from Bach crossing the stage too. Brubeck's The Duke was played coquettishly, for laughs; and got them.

So if the concert was the masterclass, what was the masterclass in the afternoon, introduced by Katrina Duncan all about? Chucho Valdés asked if anyone wanted to come on. As had been pre-arranged, Royal Academy of Music student Will Barry came on. What would he like to play, asked Valdés? He played Like Someone in Love, well and sensitively. Would he like to play another one, asks Valdés. Stella by Starlight. Valdés, thoughtful, simply reaffirmed the values and qualities he had liked in Barry's playing: "A beautiful sound. Sensitivity. Very fluid. Very good" Then Valdés sat down at the piano himself, and played the same tune, Stella. It was far slower, infinitely roomier. Valdés started building an extra commentary into the tune and engaging in a dialogue between the tune and the new elements and patterns he was bringing to it. Applause.

Perhaps if there is a lesson to be learnt from both the masterclass and from the concert- (masterclass), the best teaching is done by doing, and by people who really can. Valdés is on again tonight. Queue for returns, and here's hoping he'll be back.

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