Chucho Valdés Brings Irakere Revival Tour to U.S.

Francis Vernhet
Chucho Valdes with Irakere 40 at the 2015  Marciac Jazz Festival.

Cuban jazz giant and young players celebrate the 40th anniversary of pioneering Havana group.

On Oct. 20, Chucho Valdés opens his Irakere 40 tour at L.A.'s Walt Disney Concert Hall. Eighteen more concerts are scheduled at U.S. venues through Nov. 16.

The Afro-Cuban jazz giant will perform a tribute to his historic group Irakere with what he describes as “21st Century perspective.”

Valdés will be at the piano together onstage with his current band of young Cuban musicians, whose playing is typically met with some actual jaw-dropping by audience members.

It’s often said, by Valdés and others, that “there is a before and after Irakere” in Cuban music. The project, which Valdés founded in 1973, brought the sacred percussion and incantations of Afro-Cuban religious music to jazz. That was mixed with a bitches brew of pretty much whatever turned the musicians on. Irakere took jazz to new heights in Cuba, and at the same time was behind a Cuban dance sound that would evolve into the contemporary style called timba.

Aterciopelados Touring U.S. for First Time in Three Years

Irakere won a miraculous Grammy in 1980, when contemporary Cuban music was forbidden fruit in the U.S. At the time, the band’s core members included Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, who went on to become American success stories after defecting from Cuba.

Valdés, who turns 74 this month, remained on the island, where he became the director of the Havana Jazz Festival and eventually, a frequent performer on U.S. stages as well as elsewhere around the world. He has recorded over 100 albums with his various groups and as a solo artist and collaborator. He kept Irakere together, always incorporating younger musicians into the line-up, until 2005.

This current Irakere revival, which debuted at the 2014 Barcelona Jazz Festival and has toured in Europe, features a 10-piece band of musicians who grew up listening to Irakere classics like “Bacalao con Pan.”

At last year’s Barcelona concert, they brought an ecstatic level of musicianship to the stage, which Valdés masterfully conducted, at times standing at the piano playing a furious riff with one hand while giving signals with the other.

In what felt like an intimate jam session inside an expansive concert hall, jazz virtuosity mixed with the street-wise spontaneity of popular Cuban music.

The audience at the U.S. concerts should expect to be swept into something like a Cuban stadium wave, being pulled to their feet by call and response choruses and percussive dance rhythms, and brought back into their seats by more lyrical interludes and solos that demand fixed concentration.

In conjunction with the U.S. tour, a live album Chucho Valdés: Tribute to Irakere (Live in Marciac), recorded in Marciac, France, will be released Nov. 13 (Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi).

Irakere 40 tour schedule:

Oct 20                        Los Angeles, CA         

Walt Disney Concert Hall (with special guest Eddie Palmieri)

Oct 22                        Tucson, AZ                  UA Presents / Fox Tucson Theatre

Oct 23                        Scottsdale, AZ            Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

Oct 25                        Rohnert Park, CA       Weill Hall at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University

Oct 27                        Santa Cruz, CA          

Rio Theatre for the Performing Arts

Oct 29-Nov 1                        San Francisco, CA      SFJAZZ Center

Nov 4                          Columbia, MO          

Missouri Theatre

Nov 6                          Chicago, IL               

Symphony Center Orchestra Hall

Nov 7                          Holland, MI               

Hope College Dimnent Memorial Chapel

Nov 8                          Ann Arbor, MI          

Michigan Theater

Nov 10                        New York, NY           

The Town Hall

Nov 12                        Boston, MA                 

Berklee Performance Center

Nov 13                        San Juan, PR              

Centro de Bellas Artes

Nov 14                        Miami Beach, FL       

Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater

Nov 15                        Bethesda, MD           

The Music Center at Strathmore

Nov 16                        Durham, NC             

 Duke Performances / Page Auditorium