Winner of five Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards, the Cuban pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader Chucho Valdés has been a key figure in the evolution of Afro-Cuban jazz for the past 50 years. His musical education includes formal studies and countless nights on the best stages in Cuba as the pianist with his father, Bebo Valdés, and his orchestra Sabor de Cuba, and also the seminal Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna. In the early 70s, Chucho distilled this experiences into the foundation of Irakere, an ensemble that marked a before and after in Afro-Cuban jazz. Chucho was the director, pianist, main composer and arranger of Irakere for more than 30 years. But since 2005, he has focused on his personal career, highlighting his work as a pianist and leading small ensembles. His 2014 recording, Border-Free, finds Chucho at the top of his game, leading his Afro-Cuban Messengers, a spectacular quintet comprising yet another generation of young brilliant Cuban musicians, in a search that transcends styles and traditions. In conjunction with the U.S. tour in 2015, Chucho Valdés: Irakere 40 released Live at Marciac (Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi) recorded at the Jazz in Marciac festival in France.
“In our first rehearsal of the old pieces with this band I cried,” says Valdes, who for this project organized a 10-piece band comprising the members of his quintet, The Afro Cuban Messengers featuring Yaroldy Abreu, percussion, Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé , batá drums and voice; Reinaldo Melián, trumpet, Gastón Joya, bass and Rodney Barreto, drums; augmented by three trumpets and two saxophones. The idea was not to have an Irakere concert, however, he said then. “This is my group, featuring several generations of Cuban musicians, some living in Cuba, some not, all celebrating Irakere’s concept — today.”