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Chucho Valdés 

Wednesday, Sept. 15; Sheldon Concert Hall

Jesus "Chucho" Valdés makes his St. Louis debut tonight at the Sheldon, so at this late hour, anyone with a love for jazz — especially Latin jazz — and just finding out about this concert should be making a mad dash for tickets, dialing MetroTix or logging on to the Sheldon's Web site to secure seats for this event.

Valdés is from Cuba, and because of the nearly four decades of strained relations between the U.S. and that country, not many Americans have been able to hear and appreciate the amazing talents of Valdés as a pianist, composer and arranger. But thanks to an easing of tensions, as well as a string of recordings released here on the Blue Note label, Valdés has gained a higher profile here in the States. His 1998 recording Bele Bele en la Habana was nominated for a Grammy, and his latest Blue Note release, Briyumba Palo Congo (Religion of the Congo), features the quartet of musicians scheduled to perform with Valdés at the Sheldon — drummer Raül Pineda, bassist Francisco Rubio, conguero player Roberto Vizcaino Guill ót and Valdés' sister, Mayra Candad Valdés, on vocals.

Valdés was 18 years old at the time of the 1959 revolution and was already started on a promising jazz career. His father, "Bebo" Valdés, was a renowned musician who was musical director at Havana's famed Tropicana casino, where young Chucho had the opportunity to see and hear Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown and Nat King Cole at an early age. In 1973, he founded the groundbreaking band Irakere with Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D'Rivera, and it became the first Cuban group since the revolution to sign an American recording contract.

Valdés blends his Cuban musical roots with influences such as McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans (two very different jazz-piano stylists whom Valdés names as prime inspirations), and the result is unique, energetic and captivating. Check out Valdés in this rare Midwestern appearance and you'll understand why recordings just can't capture the power of his music.

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