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Valdes displays amazing ability at the keyboard

| Thursday, April 12, 2012, 2:24 p.m.

If Chuchito Valdes were paid by the note, he would be a remarkably rich man.

The Cuban jazz pianist showed why that would be true Tuesday evening at a Jazz Appreciation Month concert Downtown. More than anything, the show was a display of his amazing ability at the keyboard.

His playing examined melodies with stunningly complex looks in which he would begin stating a theme, then develop it over and over again, the chords getting as rich as the statement of song. If Gregory Porter set a performance bar at the opening of the series April 3, Valdes lived up to it and more.

He also was dramatic in this process, often rising off the bench or leaning down at the keys and singing along with their music.

He even had a sense of humor about it. On one mid-tempo number, the improvisation kept picking up intensity as his hands played over each other. As they rolled to the left side of the keyboard, they kept repeating the melody in higher-and-higher notes until • they ran out of space and his hand flew off the keyboard.

While he was an exciting pianist in the rhythmically powerful music of his homeland, he also had enough skill to back down to a lovely solo version of "Over the Rainbow." Even then, though, he had a little stretch in the middle where Cuban fury took over.

The concert was dominated by unidentified Cuban numbers that gave him a perfect platform to show his skills. But when he went into his version ?of ?"Take the 'A' Train," the audience seemed to relax at a song it knew.

But Valdes was no slouch at standards, either, and that piece was briskly done.

He also led his trio in a relaxed version of "Besame Mucho," a song that goes back to the ‘50s but also was done by The Beatles.

While Valdes was the heart of the show, the work of drummer Rafael Monteagudo and bassist Steve Sachse also stood out. ?The drummer offered good solo spots, but at the same time put together a stretch behind Valdes in which he created good accompaniment with only a cymbal and the rim of a drum.

It was a show that drew many calls of encouragement and appreciation from the audience, and they were all deserved.

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