mon 23/09/2019

Irakere, Ronnie Scott's | reviews, news & interviews

Irakere, Ronnie Scott's

Irakere, Ronnie Scott's

The legendary Cuban ensemble’s 40th anniversary celebration doesn’t quite take off

Chucho Valdes at the helm

When Afro-Cuban jazz pioneers Irakere first played Ronnie Scott’s, back in 1985, they sold out the venue for five weeks on the trot. Thirty years later, and 40 years since the pioneering Latin jazz outfit began, they’re back to celebrate the anniversary, playing two shows a night across six nights, with pianist and founder Chucho Valdes at the helm.  

I’d heard the stories and I was in the mood for a party – for the kind of gig that has you wishing you’d splashed out on one of the tables at the front where you're right in the middle of the action, with room to dance – and at times it was heading that way.  

“Estela Va A Estallar”, a hard-grooving take on “Stella By Starlight”, lifted by driving electric bass, boisterous montuno, furious conga and kit playing, and shout choruses from the horns, was uplifting. As was the funk number that followed, given an Afro Cuban twist by charismatic percussionist Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, who augmented his batá drumming with Yoruba vocal shouts, frantic on-stage dancing and a wander through the crowd to orchestra a few claps. ‘Bacalao Con Pan’, an Irakere classic, was better still and here the horns stole the show, contributing ballsy solos and a few dance moves of their own (below, video of Irakere playing at Ronnie Scott's in 1985).

There was the moment Valdes stood up and shouted "¡Coño!" at the top of his lungs before directing a splashy, all-over-the-place pause, and there were piano fireworks – showers of sparks, ostinati that span like Catherine wheels and chords that detonated like rockets.But for the most part the set felt a little subdued and decidedly underpowered. In the early stages there were too many drawn-out solos under which the rhythm section failed to build. Melodies and grooves felt truncated – they didn’t cook for long enough and the horns often looked disengaged – and when they left the stage after a little over an hour, declining to play an encore, it felt as if they were just getting warmed up.

As well as reinventing Cuban dance music and making an indelible impression on the world of Latin jazz, Irakere was the training ground for some of the most influential Cuban musicians of the past few decades. Clearly Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’Rivera hadn’t fancied a reunion. Still, you would have thought that the young musicians in the current line-up would have raised the energy levels, not dampened them. Perhaps the week-long run had taken its toll. Maybe they were saving themselves for a big finish in the late show. Whatever the reason, if I’d paid full whack for one of those tables at the front, I would have been a little disappointed.

@ThomasNRees

When they left the stage after a little over an hour it felt as if they were just getting warmed up

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Average: 3 (1 vote)

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