(In + Out)
Pianist Ramón Valle has conquered jazz scenes across the globe. In his native Cuba, he was lauded by the venerable Chucho Valdés as “the greatest talent among our young pianists,” a nod to his 1993 debut album Levitando, the title track of which has since become a Cuban anthem around the world. His 10th recording, the aptly titled Take Off — a deluxe edition of which includes a DVD of an “in-studio” concert — captures the 50-year-old Valle at a pivotal point in his career, as he vies for a place on New York’s effervescent Cuban jazz scene.
And he makes a compelling case. Valle’s tight-knit trio, featuring longtime collaborators Omar Rodriguez Calvo on double bass and Ernesto Simpson on drums, consistently pull together. They speak the same nuanced language while avoiding the clichés of the Cuban jazz idioms that subtly propel them forward.
Featuring seven Valle originals, the disc also includes some welcome twists. Stevie Wonder’s “Es Una Historia” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” reflect Valle’s knack for placing seemingly simple sonic structures on new terrain. The former is anchored by new arrangements and harmonies and is colored by the lush shadings of Simpson’s drums. The latter stands as an elegantly rapturous rendition whereby Cohen’s powerful lyrics are expressed just as intensely on piano.
Valle is known for his technical virtuosity and overarching modern-mainstream style. And while his critics maintain that these elements can overshadow emotional content and grand ideas, there’s much on Take Off that exudes palpable feeling. Take, for instance, the Coltrane-inspired “Steps in the Night.” The tune swings, featuring interlocking rhythmic intermissions embedded within the pianist’s fluid, lithe and lyrical statements. Another poignant piece, “Trance Dance in Blue,” showcases Valle’s pristine piano runs and between-the-lines Cuban phrasing on a bed of blues. The syncopated closer, “Kimbara Pa’ Ñico,” is dynamic and punchy, bustling with authentic panache. No doubt, Valle has landed. —Lissette Corsa