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Irakere: an academy through which generations of musicians passed

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Monday November 02, 2015

From The New York Times
By Nate Chinen

Chucho Valdés, the Pianist, Reflects on Irakere and His Career

Chucho Valdés, the eminent Cuban pianist, bandleader and composer, carries himself with a sly balance of statesmanlike deliberation and youthful gusto. One day last month, not long before his 74th birthday, he folded his big frame onto a couch in a Midtown hotel and spoke animatedly about the last 40 years of musical exchange between the United States and Cuba — a dialogue that has largely defined his career, and one that he in turn has helped define.

Conversing through an interpreter, Mr. Valdés had cause for reflection. He was gearing up for a major concert in Havana with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra, the American conductor Marin Alsop and the classical pianist Lang Lang. And he was in New York to perform at a memorial for Bruce Lundvall, the record executive to whom, Mr. Valdés said, “I owe my career.”

It was Mr. Lundvall who signed Irakere, Mr. Valdés’s trailblazing band, to Columbia Records in the late 1970s. And it was Mr. Lundvall who brought Mr. Valdés to Blue Note as a solo artist, in the early ’90s. Both times, there were diplomatic and practical obstacles that the music, in its dazzling capaciousness, managed to transcend.

Mr. Valdés’s new album, “Tribute to Irakere (Live in Marciac)” (Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi), returns to the legacy of his old band, which broke through at a time when those barriers felt a lot more intransigent. “There was a huge gulf,” Mr. Valdés said, “and the music was a very important bridge. It also went to prove that we musicians are above all the politics.”

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