Begin to Be Good
One of the leading lights of Afro-Cuban jazz, pianist and composer Chucho Valdés is probably best known as the co-founder of the formidable Cuban band Irakere. (His father is the wonderful nonagenarian pianist, Bebo Valdés; the two teamed up for Juntos Para Siempre in 2008.) On Chucho’s Steps, Valdés leads a medium-sized band with a name that tips its hat to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. “Zawinul’s Mambo” is a tribute to pianist and composer Josef Zawinul that deftly alludes to the Austrian jazzman’s catchy melodic sense. The cut features a charged tenor sax solo by Carlos Miyares Hernández and Valdés’ piano statement is dazzling in its scope. The title track, in homage to one of Valdés’ influences, John Coltrane, is full of rich harmonies, exciting percussion, and also features finely focused playing by Miyares Hernández, trumpeter Reynaldo Melián Álvarez, and the bandleader. Another standout is “Yansa,” whose title refers to a Yoruba deity. Here the band is joined by Batá drummer and vocalist Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé and a traditional vocal choir.