By Raymond Ward, Chicago Crusader
Chucho Valdes, the leader and pianist of the landmark Cuban ensemble Irakere, joins forces with dynamic Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba to present their duo project TRANCE at Symphony Center on Friday, February 23, at 8:00 p.m., as a part of the Symphony Center Presents (SCP) Jazz series. The duo, which represents two generations of the distinguished Afro-Cuban tradition, appear at Symphony Center as part of their international tour with this project.
In their two-piano project TRANCE, the Cuban piano masters explore the profound connection of sharing a musical tradition across generations. Though Valdes and Rubalcaba differ in age by more than two decades–in fact, Rubalcaba grew up listening to Valdes’ music–their friendship and mutual admiration shines through their melodic repartee. Building upon the Afro-Cuban tradition of their homeland, the duo infuses elements of rock and classical music with jazz in a repertoire of original works and traditional Cuban works.
Though both artists have previously appeared in Orchestra Hall as leaders of their own groups, this performance marks their Symphony Center debut as a pair. Most recently, Valdes appeared at Symphony Center in November 2015 with Irakere 40, a celebration of his decades-long career and the 40th anniversary of his landmark band, which previously appeared on the SCP Jazz series in 1999. A distinguished bandleader in his own right, Rubalcaba made a splash with his trio in his 1999 debut at Symphony Center and has performed there several times including a solo set in 2012 that the Chicago Tribune called “an ear-opening tonic.”
Award-winning jazz pianist and composer Chucho Valdes is considered one of the most influential figures in modern Afro-Cuban jazz. Born to a musical family in Havana province, Cuba, Valdes was a musical prodigy, graduating from the Conservatoria Municipal de Musica de la Habana at age 14. His landmark group Irakere, formed in 1973, was discovered by legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in 1977, launching a decades-long career for Valdez as a distinguished jazz pianist and bandleader. His countless recordings as a leader and co-leader have earned Valdes six Grammy and three Latin Grammy awards, including the 2016 Grammy for “Best Latin Jazz Album” for Irakere: Live at Marciac, a celebration of the band he founded and directed for more than three decades.
Pianist and composer Gonzalo Rubalcaba began playing drums in his father’s orchestra at age six. By his mid-teens, he was performing as both a drummer and pianist in hotels, concert halls and jazz clubs around Havana. Upon graduating, Rubalcaba immediately began touring Cuba, Europe, Africa and Asia with the band Orquesta Aragon, as a sideman in various jazz groups, leading his own Afro-Cuban jazz rock fusion band Grupo Proyecto. Encounters with jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie led to introductions of Rubalcaba’s talents to the United States, expanding his jazz career. Rubalcaba’s international recording career has earned him 16 nominations from both the Grammys and Latin Grammys.
Tickets for all Symphony Center Presents Jazz series concerts can be purchased by phone at 1-800-223-7114 or 312-294-3000, online at cso.org or at the Symphony Center box office, 220 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago.