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Chucho Valdés: Irakere 40 Tour Launching in Fall 2015 to Celebrate Legendary Afro-Cuban Jazz Group;

Valdés and His Newly Expanded Afro-Cuban Messengers Honor Irakere’s Groundbreaking Work;

Concerts at LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall (with special guest Eddie Palmieri), SFJAZZ Center, Fillmore Miami Beach, NYC’s Town Hall, and more;

New CD “Tribute to Irakere (Live in Marciac)” Out October 20 on Jazz Village/harmonia mundi



VIDEO “Lorena’s Tango”

Chucho Valdés: Irakere 40 featuring Chucho Valdés & the Afro-Cuban Messengers – 2015 Tour

Tues Oct 20 Los Angeles, CA Walt Disney Concert Hall (with special guest Eddie Palmieri)

Thurs Oct 22 Tucson, AZ UA Presents / Fox Tucson Theatre

Fri Oct 23 Scottsdale, AZ Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

Sun Oct 25 Rohnert Park, CA Weill Hall at the Green Music Center / Sonoma State University

Tues Oct 27 Santa Cruz, CA Rio Theatre for the Performing Arts

Thurs Oct 29 San Francisco, CA SFJAZZ Center

Fri Oct 30 San Francisco, CA SFJAZZ Center

Sat Oct 31 San Francisco, CA SFJAZZ Center

Sun Nov 1 San Francisco, CA SFJAZZ Center

Wed Nov 4 Columbia, MO Missouri Theatre

Fri Nov 6 Chicago, IL Symphony Center Orchestra Hall

Sat Nov 7 Holland, MI Hope College / Dimnent Memorial Chapel

Sun Nov 8 Ann Arbor, MI UMS / Michigan Theater

Tues Nov 10 New York, NY World Music Institute / The Town Hall

Thurs Nov 12 Boston, MA Berklee Performance Center

Fri Nov 13 San Juan, PR Centro de Bellas Artes

Sat Nov 14 Miami Beach, FL Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater

Sun Nov 15 Bethesda, MD The Music Center at Strathmore

Mon Nov 16 Durham, NC Duke Performances / Page Auditorium

The Chucho Valdés: Irakere 40 tour is a celebration of Irakere,the Cuban band that, with its bold fusion of Afro-Cuban ritual music, popular Afro-Cuban music styles, jazz and rock, marked a before and after in Latin jazz.

But this 2015 tour also plays as a summing up of the extraordinary contributions of five-time Grammy and three-time Latin Grammy-winning pianist, composer and bandleader Jesús “Chucho” Valdés, Irakere’s founder, main composer and arranger.

In conjunction with the U.S. tour, Jazz Village/harmonia mundi will be releasingChucho Valdés:Tribute to Irakere (Live in Marciac) on October 20th, featuring Chucho’s current group, The Afro-Cuban Messengers.

The young Messengers grew up in Cuba listening to the music of Irakere — something that became a defining element for this project.

Leading a ten-piece ensemble comprising the Messengers expanded with three trumpets and two saxophones, Valdés offers a vivid retrospective of his work the past four decades. It is also a wide angle view of the evolution of Afro-Cuban jazz as the program includes classics of Irakere´s repertoire such as “Misa Negra” “Estela Va A Estallar” (“Stella By Starlight”), ”Juana 1600,” and “Bacalao Con Pan,” but also more recent compositions, originally performed with the Messengers, in new arrangements, such as “Yansa,” “Abdel” and “Lorena’s Tango.”

“In our first rehearsal of the old pieces with this band I cried,” says Chucho, who will be 74 on October 9. “When I decided to do a tribute to that marvelous band, I also decided I didn’t want to do it with the charter members but with players from the generations of musicians that grew up and learned from Irakere. I thought it would be more meaningful. It’s a tribute from one generation to another.”

Chucho actually started Irakere in 1973 by recruiting some of his fellow players, and main soloists, in the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna. This all-star large ensemble had been organized in 1967 to play jazz and pop, in part as an official response to the global musical earthquake started by The Beatles.

In 1973, the budding Irakere, then still a band-within-a-band, recorded “Bacalao Con Pan,” a very innovative, high energy, danceable piece that foreshadowed a style that would become known years later as timba. The song was the band’s first major hit.

In 1975, Irakere became a self-standing band. It remained active until 2005.

“Irakere represented for me a chance to put into practice all those ideas I had since I was a music student,” says Chucho, who was the band’s main composer and arranger. “And that included anything, from how to mix the ritual Afro-Cuban drums and rhythms with jazz, to how to have the sound of a ‘small’ big band and how to structure the pieces.”

Dionisio Jesús “Chucho” Valdés Rodriguez learned piano and the sound of a big band studying and playing with his father, the great pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader Bebo Valdés. But in time, looking for “small groups that sounded bigger than they were,” Chucho’s references became Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and Horace Silver´s quintets — and then he heard Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Chucho recalls someone bringing BS&T’s self-titled second album to a rehearsal of the Orquesta in Havana and how “the whole orchestra gathered around and listened — and we flipped out,” he says. “It was a small band that sounded like a big band. I had been looking for that sound for years.”

The discovery of Irakere by American audiences began with a chance encounter in 1977 when, in the first official visit of Americans to Cuba since the Missile Crisis, a jazz cruise ship carrying musicians including Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and a young Ry Cooder dropped anchor in Havana. They heard the group, were bowled over by the writing and virtuosic playing and, back in the US, recommended Irakere to the late Bruce Lundvall, then President of CBS Records. Months later, Lundvall visited Cuba, heard the group in a concert/audition, signed it on the spot and booked it at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York City.

On June 28, 1978, Chucho Valdés and Irakere burst onto the global stage.

That evening, the Newport Jazz Festival’s bill at Carnegie Hall was “Three Pianos and Two Guitars,” featuring Bill Evans,McCoy Tyner and Mary Lou Williams on pianos; and Larry Coryell and Phillip Catherine on guitars. Irakere appeared unannounced, at the end of the night. In his review for TheNew York Times, critic John S. Wilson wrote that, “by the end of the evening, [the headliners] had almost been forgotten in the wake of an unannounced added attraction — Irakere, an 11 piece group from Cuba that had just been brought to New York by Columbia Records.”

A few months later, an album simply titled Irakere and including tracks drawn from the Carnegie Hall debut and a later show at the Montreux Jazz Festival, won the GRAMMY for Best Latin Recording.

In the years since, several charter members of Irakere, most notably saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, have gone on to become leading music figures in their own right. In fact, emulating Blakey’s Messengers, Irakere became a rolling graduate school of Afro-Cuban jazz.

Throughout, one of Irakere‘s remarkable characteristics was that the group followed and maintained two parallel musical tracks: jazz experimentation and dance music hits. Their shows, especially in Cuba, often featured a first part focused on jazz and a second half dedicated to dancers.

“We never were a dance group. We were a jazz group,” says Chucho of Irakere. “But jazz in Cuba had a limited audience so we started playing dance music to attract new audiences for what we were doing — and it worked incredibly well. I always thought that the people who came to hear us wanted to hear good music, good arrangements, good soloing, something different. So in our concerts we aimed to please those who came to hear jazz […] But there was another audience that was just waiting to dance to ‘Bacalao Con Pan’. We played jazz and we wanted to have fun. And that’s what we want to do on this current tour.”

But an active creator such as Valdés wouldn´t be happy settling for nostalgia. He is particularly proud of his young Afro-Cuban Messengers and how they continue to challenge him and push the music forward. The results can be clearly heard in Chucho Valdés: Irakere 40.

“In the original Irakere, the rhythm section was the foundation and we had a spectacular brass and wind section, with great soloists,” recalls Chucho. “Perhaps Irakere in its first period depended more on the virtuosity of its players than the arranging. When some of those musicians left, then I really had to put pencil to paper, replace great individual talents with more of a group sound. Now I have an extraordinary rhythm section that’s not only a foundation but a show in itself and I’m using them more as soloists. We have very, very strong brass and wind sections and the writing is more detailed. It’s all more balanced. It makes the music new again.”


Chucho Valdés (Piano)

Gastón Joya (Bass)

Rodney Barreto (Drums)

Yaroldy Abreu (Percussion)

Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé (Batás & Vocals)

Manuel Machado (Trumpet)

Reinaldo Melián (Trumpet)

Carlos Sarduy (Trumpet)

Ariel Bringuez (Tenor Sax)

Rafael Àguila (Alto Sax)