[REVIEW]Cuban Pianist Delights Crowd

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[REVIEW]Cuban Pianist Delights Crowd

Even without the glare of the spotlight, Chucho Valdes stood out on the stage. Clad in a light gray suit, his large frame seemed to complement his reputation as one of the world's best Latin jazz musicians.

The Cuban pianist performed in the Seoul Arts Center this week with his quartet. The group presented works from Mr. Valdes' recent albums. Mr. Valdes is the winner of two Grammy awards (one as part of the ensemble Crisol in 1997, and an individual one in 2000), and his keyboard virtuosity is well-known. Time magazine called Mr. Valdes "the greatest jazz pianist in Cuba, perhaps one of the greatest pianists in the world."

On stage, Mr. Valdes' grand piano seemed an extension of his body; his long fingers trailed across the keyboard to produce a dizzying succession of chords and trills.

Only recently has an appreciation for jazz become widespread in Korea. Often now it is perceived as a chic accessory for the upper class.

But curiously, the tradition of improvisation in jazz resembles that in traditional Korean folk music, or gugak, and the bawdy ad-libbing in madang geuk stage performances. All three rely on response from the audience.

The highlight of Mr. Valdes' two-hour show was the rhythmic challenge set by the pianist to his quartet. Mr. Valdes would indicate to band members to follow him, each time setting them up for more complex combinations until he was using his elbows to reach some of the notes and teasing his quartet into exhaustion. The 20 minutes of improvisation captivated the audience. By the finish, Mr. Valdes, himself buoyed into a near-frenzy, stepped off his piano stool and treated those in attendance to improvised dance steps while the other players demonstrated their skills.

Valdes' guiding theme over the last couple of decades has been to embrace a diverse repertoire ranging from Cuban to punk to classic, all represented within jazz. In their concert, the Chucho Valdes Quartet incorporated passages from a Mozart sonata to mambo, a Bach fugue to bolero.

Unfortunately, the concert was marred - as too many extravagant productions in Korea are - by somewhat chaotic lighting effects. The spotlight jumped erratically to each band member and the lighting changes did not seem to correspond with changes in the mood of the music.

by Chun Bo-hyun

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