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…