The Sounds of Cuba, In Princeton

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Chucho Valdes will perform at McCarter Theatre, April 12.

By Anthony Stoeckert, Central Jersey – Apr 7, 2018

McCarter Theatre is bringing the music of Cuba to Princeton.

The theater is presenting two concerts by Cuban artists this month, beginning with the Chucho Valdes Trio, April 12 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre.

Valdes is a pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader who has won six Grammys and three Latin Grammys. In 1973, he formed a group, Irakere, which combined jazz, rock, classical and traditional Cuban rhythms. The concert also will feature Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda and Grégoire Maret on the chromatic harmonica as an opening act.

“Chucho Valdés has been the most influential figure in the evolution of Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz since — well, I think it’s safe to say, forever,” says William W. Lockwood, McCarter’s special programming director. “His latest project is Jazz Batá, which he will play at McCarter joined by Yelsey Heredia on bass and Dreiser Durruthy Bombale on percussion and voice. Valdes describes the repertoire of Jazz Bata as almost all new music, representing both a ‘look forward and a closing of pending business,’ since the music was originally created in 1972 and its roots stem from his legendary Afro-Cuban jazz-rock ensemble Irakere.”

On April 24, pianist Robert Fonseca will perform at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre.

“Fonseca already dominates the ‘new Cuban scene,’ and his influence extends well beyond his own music making as the artistic director of Cuba’s Jazz Plaza Festival in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city,” Lockwood says. “‘Innovative’ is probably the best word to describe his sound, which lies at the crossroads of jazz, traditional Cuban music, and soul — all faithful to his Afro-Cuban roots. His latest CD release, ‘ABUC,’ is dedicated to the island  he calls home — it’s Cuba spelled backwards, after all — and the album incorporates elements of the island’s traditions such as contradanza, mambo, danzon and bolero, all infused with the spirit of the ‘descarga jam’ and even hip-hop.”

Lockwood saw the opportunity to brings these artists to McCarter after the United States re-established diplomatic ties with the nation in 2014. In 2015, Lockwood visited Cuba, and followed that visit with a tour of Cuba with McCarter staff, donors, and patrons sampling the rich local culture, history, and artistry that had previously been off-limits to visitors from the United States.

“The arts are booming in Cuba,” Lockwood says. “So many world-class graphic artists, musicians, dance companies and more are at work. They are all making important statements. I’ve been proud to curate a collection of Cuban artists here at McCarter over the past few years, with Lizst Alfonso Dance Company, The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, Chucho Valdés and Roberto Fonseca only a few of the artists I’ve been able to have visit with us, and I’m committed to continuing these relationships in the future, not only here at McCarter, but through my recent Cuban Lecture Series at the Princeton Adult School, for example.”

Lockwood says he’s lucky to be able to have visited Cuba twice and can’t wait to go back.

“For those who can’t make it,” he says, “I welcome you to McCarter to see and hear a little bit for yourselves.”

The Chucho Valdes Trio will perform at McCarter Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton, April 12, 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $48-$62. Roberto Fonseco will perform at McCarter, April 24, 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $56. For more information, go to www.mccarter.org.

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