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Kings Place hosted a magnificent concert by legendary Cuban pianist, composer and arranger Chucho Valdes on 22 November 2014. This sold-out show was a highlight of London Jazz Festival.

To be completely honest, I almost got disappointed at first that Chucho was alone in the stage, it was Latin jazz after all! It took me only two songs to admit my mistake because he was actually a one-man band! His complex harmonies likened the music to a jigsaw puzzle amusing to assemble. We were mesmerised to see Chucho’s hands “float like a butterfly” on the piano. The 72-year-old pianist played all the songs by heart, but we should not be surprised: Chucho started to learn music at three years of age. His first teacher was Bebo Valdes, his father and soundtrack composer of “Chico and Rita”, an admirable animated film for adults. As `one of jazz piano’s great virtuosos’ ***, Chucho won eight Grammy awards during his career, including three Latin Grammys.

Chucho Valdes: Maestro of latin jazz… (Photo credit: Ozgur Yuzak)

The concert was devoted not only to Cuban music, but also to jazz and Latin jazz. We enjoyed very popular songs such as Duke Ellington’s exciting “Caravan”, “Besame Mucho”, maybe the most worn-out song of all times and Barbra Streisand’s famous ballad “People.” But it was not same old same old, as Chucho gave these songs a kiss of life! Also, thanks to his original arrangement, “Over the Rainbow” did not feel incomplete without vocals.

After one set without intervals, Chucho sighed when he was requested an encore. He made us laugh. He then was convinced to a second encore thanks to our ceaseless applause. When it was all over, I did not quite get how 75 minutes flew away! I was still driven by the Cuban breeze Chucho delivered with his floral shirt, and his amazing music.

*** According to The Guardian’s jazz critic John Fordham
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