Where to begin describing these two extraordinary Cuban musicians? Pianist Chucho Valdés and singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés have over years 100 years of experience between them and are arguably the two greatest living exponents of Latin jazz.
Milanes was an instrumental mover and shaker in the key nueva trova movement in the late ’60s, although his later career has favoured ballads of the heart over matters of state. Valdés, meanwhile, has continued in the tradition of his famous father Bebo and is revered by many music fans for his work with the Grammy Award-winning Irakere, which he co-founded in 1972.
On their first studio album together, Valdés and Milanés have opted to perform a collection of original songs and in the process have fashioned one of the most exemplary Latin recordings of the new millennium. First released in 2007, Más Allá De Todo is now gaining its first UK release courtesy of the ever reliable Wrasse label.
Now, I make no excuses in professing my ignorance of the Spanish language, but a translation of the lyrics would have been mighty useful. And I only make the point because the passion of Milanes’ voice grasps the listener so hard that one is left aching for the meaning behind these beautiful songs.
Distancias opens the album and sets the musical blueprint for what is to follow. A few gentle rolls on the piano from Valdés and then Milanés enters proceedings, his voice alternating between a relaxed, conversational tone and moments of emotive Latin phrasing.
Valdés is on prime form throughout the album. The brief flurries that punctuate tracks such as Mary, Días De Otoño and Recuento are evidence of a master at work, but for the most part he is content to sit back and provide sensitive accompaniment to the more demonstrative Milanés. It’s all a long way from the energetic roll and tumble that provided the driving force behind Irakere, but it is instructive to hear him in this kind of mood.
Milanés benefits greatly from the partnership, reining in his tendency to overegg his vocals in favour of a flow that never threatens to drown the simplicity of the arrangements. Only once do we see a flash of the Milanés of old, on the pulsating album closer Choteo. A curious if fun ending to an album stuffed to the gills with yearning ballads.
Más Allá De Todo has already become a hit in Latin America and it deserves to gain a wider audience throughout the English-speaking world. The music transports you to a better place, far, far away from the troubles and cares of the everyday world.