Jazz Batá 2 (Mack Avenue)

Chucho Valdés

Released November 16, 2018

Jazziz Critics’ Picks 2019






Jazz Batá 2, composer, pianist and bandleader Chucho Valdés’ first album for Mack Avenue Records, marks a new peak of creativity for the artist, even as it revisits the small-group concept of his 1972 Cuban album Jazz Batá. That album upon release was originally considered experimental at the time, but the trio project – featuring no drum set and two virtuosi who would subsequently be charter members of Irakere: Carlos del Puerto (bass) and Oscar Valdés (batâ: the sacred, hourglass shaped drums of the Yoruba religion in Cuba) – would now be considered contemporary.

Recorded in two and a half days at John Lee’s studio in New Jersey, Jazz Batá 2 is both rhythmic and lyrical at once. The six-hand complexity of the batá repertoire – the deep classical music of West Africa – permeates Valdés’ piano solos throughout the album. “I applied to my solos the different rhythms of the batá,” he says. “The piano is of course a harmonic instrument, but it’s percussive too, and you can play percussion with it.”

Valdés set the batá-driven small-group format aside in the wake of Irakere’s explosive popularity in 1973, but he’s always wanted to get back to it. Now he’s done it with Jazz Batá 2, “with more resources, in every sense,” he says, “with a wider panorama.”

It’s an exceptionally tight band. All of the three supporting musicians – Yaroldy Abreu Robles, Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, and Yelsy Heredia – are from the Guantánamo region and have deep roots in Cuban musical culture as well as being conservatory-trained. Yelsy and Dreiser grew up together, went through music school together, graduated together, and have been playing music side-by-side literally all their lives. Yaroldy, who plays a wide variety of drums – congas, batá, bongó, orchestral percussion – has been working with Valdés for twenty years. “He always knows what I’m going to want to do,” says Valdés.

Jazz Batá 2 also marks the centenary of Valdés’ father and teacher, Ramón “Bebo” Valdés (1918-2013). These two giants of Cuban music shared a birthday – October 9 – so Bebo’s 100th will be Chucho’s 77th. Between the two of them, they’ve exercised a massive musical influence since the 1940s. Bebo’s 1952 creation of the commercially failed but artistically successful batanga – which combined batá drums with a state-of-the-art jazz band – was a direct inspiration for the batá-driven jazz of Irakere, as well as for Jazz Batá and its sequel being released 46 years later. This stretch of time reinforces the enduring and magnificent career Valdés has cultivated over the 77 years of his life, with no signs of slowing down and never one to conform or expand the boundaries of his musical inventions.

Track Listing:

1. Obatala 12:55

2. Son XXI 7:35

3. Luces 4:52

4. Ochun 6:15

5. Chucho’s Mood 7:12

6. 100 Anos De Bebo 6:56

7. El Guije 4:10

8. The Clown 6:10


Chucho Valdés: piano

Yelsy Heredia: double bass

Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé: batás & vocal

Yaroldy Abreu Robles: percussion

Guest Artist

Regina Carter: violin (6)

Recorded June 2018, at Alleycat Studio, South Orange, New Jersey


This is pianist Chucho Valdés’ long-awaited followup to his landmark 1972 recording Jazz Batá, a trio album—piano, bass, and bata (a drum of Yoruba origin that’s a staple of Cuban Santería rituals)—then considered somewhat radical for its absence of a trap set. Here, Valdés’ compatriots include bassist Yelsy Heredia and two percussionists: Dreiser Durruthy Bombale, who also contributes vocals, and Yaroldy Abreu Robles. Regina Carter’s violin graces two selections, “100 Años de Bebo” and “Ochun.”

Although there are moments of introspection, especially during some of Valdés’ solo piano interludes, the overall mood is celebratory and welcoming. This music feels utterly contemporary, no matter how far into the past (or the future) it may probe. “100 Años de Bebo,” based on a theme that Valdés’s father, bandleader Bebo Valdés, used to play at home, invokes the suave urbanity—and mambo/swing fusion—of Havana’s old Tropicana Club, where Bebo held forth as bandleader and arranger for many years. “Chucho’s Mood” is a musical portmanteau, effortlessly melding genres, generations, and cultural motifs into a new and fully realized whole; there’s even a brief, witty reference to “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Carter’s linear melodicism on “Ochun” lends the composition a feeling of almost folk-like simplicity. “El Guije” is a little harder-edged, more streetsy in feel, even as Bombale’s vocals, multitracked in a call-and-response pattern, invoke the music’s deepest origins, right down to his trickster-like guffaw at the end. Chucho Valdés may be a “roots man” at heart, but he and his compatriots understand that roots are meaningful only when they nourish something alive and growing.

David Whiteis (JazzTimes)