It was quite apposite, I thought as I walked away from the venue, that this concert was staged on Remembrance Day. Earlier on, just a stone’s throw from the theatre, I had watched the oldest procession in the country as part of the Annual Lord Mayor’s Parade.
If Remembrance Day is about acknowledging the sacrifices made by the fallen and injured to secure peace, what better way to honour them than through music? In my opinion, the most universal of all the art forms and the one that gives us the succour we need in our darkest hours.
That was exactly what Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba served to a musically-hungry audience at the Barbican as part of the London Jazz Festival. Two world-strutting behemoths with a Grammy collection that would be the envy of any well-established pianist, this was probably one of the must-see shows of the ten-day event. On the one hand, seventy-six-year-old Chucho, a pioneer and trailblazer of modern Cuban jazz, who with his band Irakere not only broke the mould of what Latin jazz was supposed to sound like, but also created new rules along the way. On the other hand, smaller in stature, but definitely not in craft, virtuoso Rubalcaba, who redefined jazz for a late 80s, 90s both Cuban and international audience.
In addition to all this, the experience, at least to me, of watching these two colossi was akin to what I could only describe as an aural orgasm. Yes, this post is certainly X-rated, my dears, so do not let your little ones read it (smiley, with a wink). By the way, all puns are intended. Yep, it is that kind of post.
Where to start? Maybe with the teasing, long, foreplay-like meditation at the beginning. It was as sensuous as it was deft. Delicate notes, exploring, probing, feeling. It was Rubalcaba who broke away first, his Steinway gathering pace as a patient and calm Valdés kept back and watched.
What followed thereafter can only be described with the language of love, or sex, if you prefer. There were sprints and sudden stops, polyphonic dialogues the two masters lunged at and percussive, quick-fire, repetitive tapping. A Cuban montuno became a climax-inducing piece. A “zapateo” was given a full big band revamp… minus the big band. The sound was big, all-encompassing. I looked both to my left and to my right. I saw plenty of open mouths and eyes, bobbing heads and shaking shoulders. Those twenty fingers on stage, eliciting occasional gasps and sighs in the audience, every time they travelled up and down the ivories and hit the desired spot. Would we have been down on the aisles grooving it had the concert not been at 2:30pm? You bet.
And just when you thought the concert was over, the encore came. Even the ”Duke” would have approved of Chucho and Gonzalo’s take on Caravan. It was full of razzmatazz and panache. The final stage of copulation and the post-coital ciggie all at once (I threw the latter in for good measure, I don’t smoke. But I’m feeling generous.). A tumbao-heavy version with a thirty- or forty-second Manteca riff halfway through. This was not a battle, in the same way sex should never be one. This was collaboration, banter, care, tenderness, playfulness, a bit of rough and calmness (at the end). My only gripe? Where was my second part? Where was the interval and follow-up? Because as many of us know, when it comes to sex, sorry, music, second parts tend to be as good as, if not better than the first ones.