Simultaneous, multiple, mega-sized concerts for three days — that's the agenda at the mighty North Sea Jazz Festival, held every July in a huge convention center in Rotterdam. For every show you catch, you miss half a dozen, so hardcore fans plot their evenings in advance, and leave one set in the middle to sprint to another, as we do on this episode of JazzSet.
After half an hour with the stunning accordion of Richard Galliano and his quartet of name players from Cuba, West Africa and the U.S., we check out piano wonder-of-the-world Chucho Valdés from Havana. Valdés calls his eight-piece group his "big band."
The youthful Galliano (born 1950 in Cannes) taught himself to play Clifford Brown trumpet solos on the accordion. In Paris, he worked with Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla. Inspired by Piazzolla's renewal of the tango, Galliano revived a forgotten form of turn-of-the-century Parisian dance music, the bluesy musette. He replaced the bagpipes and horns of the original musette with his accordion and a jazz rhythm section. Galliano is expansive, embracing the full romantic arc from Edith Piaf songs to Brazilian music, and most recently Bach. You forget that this instrument is rare in jazz, or that anyone except Galliano ever played it.
And then there is Chucho Valdés. Even after he lowers himself to the bench, Valdés (born 1941) is tall and direct. A glissando from Chucho makes something happen. He commands an exquisite blend of Cuban music with African roots and North American jazz. Valdés first performed in the U.S. at Carnegie Hall in the late 1970s with his Grammy-winning fusion group Irakere, with Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. Though he's always photographed wearing a beret, when I saw him in Montreal in 1993, he wore a New York Yankees baseball cap (before El Duque). In 1998, Valdés invited JazzSet to cover his Havana Jazz Festival, and speaking for engineer Duke Markos and myself, we have never been the same. In the early 2000s, Chucho Valdés led his quartet in a JazzSet performance from the Gilmore Festival. In every situation, a set with Chucho temporarily and momentarily resolves decades of forced separation between jazz and Cuban music.
These sets took place in July 2009 at the North Sea Festival.
Richard Galliano, accordion; Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano; Richard Bona, bass; Clarence Penn, drums.
Chucho Valdés, piano; Julio Padron, Elpidio Chappottin, trumpets; German Velazco, alto sax; Carlos Miyares Hernandez, tenor sax; Lazaro Rivero Alarcon, bass; Juan Carlos Rojas Castro, drums; Yaroldy Abreu Robles, percussion; Mayra Valdés Caridad, vocals.
Recording by Radio Netherlands. Thanks to Arjan Went and Noah Waxman.