Barcelona Concert Salutes Bebo Valdés, Features Chucho Valdés
On several occasions before his passing on March 22, virtuoso Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés had requested that, upon his death, a party be thrown where attendees should eat chocolate and drink rum rather than weep.
Those substances were distributed gratis in the lobby of Barcelona’s BARTS Theater to the 1,450 attendees of an Oct. 29 memorial concert co-curated by Barcelona Voll-Damm International Jazz Festival Artistic Director Joan Anton Cararach and Bebo’s son, maestro Chucho Valdés.
Titled “Rumba Para Bebo,” the program spanned an expansive stylistic range: Cuban classical composers Ernesto Lecuona and Ignacio Cervantes, ritualistic music from Kongo and Yoruba religious practice, and various compositions by Bebo Valdés that addressed the blues, modern jazz, descargas, boleros and son.
Bebo Valdés earned international recognition as a mambo king while employed as house arranger at Havana’s Tropicana Club from 1948 to 1957. He left Cuba in 1961 and lived his final half-century in Sweden.
The Barcelona celebration of his life was a three-day affair. Spanish director Fernando Trueba, a key figure in the revival of Valdés’ career after 1995, was on hand for screenings of his 2000 documentary Calle 54, which climaxes with a wrenchingly intimate Bebo-Chucho duet on Lecuona’s “La Comparsa”; his 2010 animated film Chico Y Rita (in collaboration with Javier Mariscal and Tono Errando), which vividly evokes ’50s Havana and features Bebo’s music on the soundtrack; and Old Man Bebo, a revealing 2008 biographical documentary directed by Carlos Carcas and produced by Trueba.
During the run-up, the festival—in conjunction with Barcelona’s Conservatori del Liceu—presented master classes by Chucho Valdés, classical piano maestro Mauricio Vallina, pianist Omar Sosa and conguero Yaroldy Abreu—a member of Chucho’s various groups since the late ’90s, most recently the Afro-Cuban Messengers.
Indeed, the think-as-one synchronicity of Abreu and ACM bandmates Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé on batá drum, Rodney Barreto on drumset and Gastón Joya on bass was crucial to the continuity of the concert.
Chucho Valdés played throughout with a more spontaneous attitude than during his band’s sold-out concert at the 2,000-seat Palau de la Música the following evening. Within two discursive solos on “Bebo’s Blues”—played duo with Spanish bassist Javier Collina, Bebo’s frequent partner during the aughts and himself a Paul Chambers devotee—Chucho refracted Wynton Kelly, Earl Hines and Cecil Taylor, among other sources, before shifting to a series of choruses in his own argot. He remained on stage for “Lagrimas Negras,” spinning out elegant, vertiginous variations that complemented and counterstated his sister Mayra Valdés’ impassioned delivery and the moves of an artful dance troupe drawn from two different Barcelona companies.
It was delightful to hear the nuanced pianism of Lazara Cachao, whose supportive montunos allowed the drums to shine on “Descarga del Bebo” and prodded Gaston Joya into uncorking an arco bass solo that channeled the spirit of Bebo’s lifelong friend Israel “Cachao” Lopez. Her lyric, meditative passage illuminated Mayra Valdés’ sensitive reading of “Serenata a en Batanga,” while on “Pan Con Timba” her informed comp cushioned a flugelhorn solo by Jerry González on which the Madrid-based maestro showcased his plangent tone and hip harmonic concept, as he also did on “Besame Mucho” with pianist Javier Massó “Caramelo,” his partner for the past decade in the Madrid-based ensemble El Commando De La Clave.
Honoring Bebo’s classical roots and branches, Vallina inhabited Lecuona’s “Tres Danzas Cubanas” and “Tres Danzas Afrocubanas,” illuminating the message with micro-calibrated touch and fluid phrasing. Then he welcomed Paloma Manfugás to the left side of the bench for a four-hand tour through Ignacio Cervantes’ “Tres Danzas.”
Somehow, it seemed perfectly natural to hear this music juxtaposed with Omar Sosa’s “Invocación-Malongo,” an intense ritualistic “black mass” based on the palo monte tradition of Cuba’s Kongo religion.
More functional spirit-raising transpired at the concert’s conclusion, more than two hours after it had begun, when all members joined Chucho for a new tune, “Rumba Para Bebo,” which, he said later, his father conveyed to him in a dream on their mutual birthday, Oct. 9. Everyone sang and danced; the celebration could have continued indefinitely had not Cararach and Valdés, concerned the stage floor might collapse, halted the proceedings.
The website ARTE Live Web has posted a film of the concert here.