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Valdes, all over the map

September 25, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Chucho Valdes is a major presence in a room even before he sits down at a piano. Tuesday at Catalina Bar & Grill, the 6-foot, 6-inch Cuban master and the club's 9-foot Yamaha grand literally filled the stage.

Perhaps understandably, his presentation was also larger than life. Performing solo, he immediately took charge of the music with a Lisztian rendering of "Besame Mucho," grabbing the Latin classic with both hands, vigorously stretching it across the length and breadth of the keyboard.

It was an omen of things to come. A medley of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" and Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" received similar treatment. Deconstructing melodies, reframing them within an atmosphere of slashing chromatic runs, tossing in a few fragments of Beethoven's "Pathetique" sonata, Valdes somehow shaped this brightly hued array of sounds and rhythms into a cohesive musical perspective.

Another medley received similar treatment. Starting with the Gershwins' "Embraceable You," Valdes moved into Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby" and hit a peak with another Gershwin classic, "Liza," in which he managed the remarkable accomplishment of combining Cuban tumbaos with propulsive stride piano style.

Curiously, one of the only other Cuban references in his program was a brief rendering of Ernesto Lecuona's lilting "La Cumparsa." Valdes' airy articulation of the melody underscored the one flaw in his otherwise attractive outing -- an emphasis on bombastic technical displays at the cost of the relaxed lyricism that has so often been a vital element in his improvisational process.


Chucho Valdes

Where: Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood

When: Tonight, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Friday, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Price: $16-$25, with two-drink minimum

Info: (323) 466-2210

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