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Chucho Valdes, Fantasia Cubana (Blue Note)
Another solo marathon from the maestro. Here he takes on Debussy, Ravel, and Chopin, as well as tackling some interpretations of Cuban folk material. Chucho's robust piano style has come in for some criticism (ignore the quibbles on Amazon, I think they are politically motivated) but he always wins in the end, this time on points rather than overwhelmingly. The classical pieces are still recognisable as such but the personal stamp is strong. So don't expect some Loussier-plays-Bach "lounge" affair. This is full-blooded piano jazz (Valdes can never serve up anything else). It is that mixture of muscularity and exquisite beauty that marks him as one of the contemporary scene's most individual talents. That and a formidable technical range. Whether these gifts are best suited to this more European project is a moot point. The classical re-workings are fine, but the best tracks on the album are "Sunrise", "My Reverie", "Fantasia Cubana", and "Tumbao" -- all more obviously Cuban in inspiration. If you are already a fan of the Valdes approach, alternately intense and delicate, there are all the usual pleasures here. Less committed fans may want to start elsewhere -- the previous live solo album for instance.