No AOTW for a few weeks there… sorry. I was out of town and then last week was just super busy. But I’m back now, and feeling good… so here we go.

I’ve been listening to a ton of afro-cuban stuff lately because of my trip to the DR, and I’m really loving New Conceptions by Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes. Chucho was the leader of 70’s Latin supergroup “Irakere,” and has been doing his solo stuff ever since. New Conceptions is a more recent record of his, but his playing doesn’t at all suffer from “old age” or anything like that. In fact, the record won him his 5th Grammy in 2003.

The band is a standard Latin line-up: piano, bass, drumset, percussionists, and a handful of guest melody instruments. The tunes are mostly original Valdes compositions, and a couple standards (“You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and “Solar”). The band doesn’t swing though – it’s all cascara and clave. Here’s a cool video of them performing the opening track of this record, “La Comparsa.” A guy named Ramses Rodriguez Baralt is playing drums, and I’ve not heard him in any other context, but he nails this one. The lilt is subtle but effective, and he does a great job of not stepping on the percussionist’s role in coloring the rhythms. That’s the real challenge for an afro-cuban drummer. Fills, grooves… all your ideas need to be run past the filter of knowing that you are only one of 2 (maybe 3 or 4) drummers, and the possibility of clutter is tremendous. Here’s another video of Chucho’s band, this time playing with a drummer who maybe isn’t doing so well with the “clutter” temptation (my opinion). I might just be a bad audio quality’s fault, though.

I think my favorite moment on this record is the 3-minute conga solo in their burning rendition of “Solar.” Holy cow. You can listen to that track here.

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