The Colors of Jazz

Concert Review:

Chucho Valdés & The Afro-Cuban Messengers

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Chucho Valdés & the Afro-Cuban Messengers graced the stage February 12 for the We Always Swing Jazz Series with a flawless, riveting, and excellently enriching performance at the Missouri Theatre downtown.  The entire night, I was itching to jump out of my seat and dance, yet felt restrained by the atmosphere. Chucho Valdez’s lively melodies felt awkward in the elegant theatre.  The performance was fantastic, engaging the audience’s ears and beckoning their bodies to dance, yet the stiff chairs and formal seating kept movement to a subtle head-bob and foot-tap.  Critiquing simply the musical aspects, however, I have only praise.

The concert began with a soft piano solo by Chucho himself and then erupted into a colorful merengue with a mix of trumpet, bongo, guitar, drums, bass, and sax.  The stage came alive in an instant.

A crisp and clean performance with a blend of smooth classical jazz, Afro Cuban music, and some bluesy fever kept the audience wanting more – you never knew what was coming next.  The band subtly transitioned from one song to the next as they alternated between group pieces and solos.  Each musician at one point or another stepped into the spotlight and amazed the audience with his or her agility, speed and artistic brilliance.  When the pianist and trumpet player performed their duet, I closed my eyes feeling my ears tingle with pleasure in hearing the blissful chords interweave with each other.  The drummers then stole the show, beating faster and faster until all jaws dropped open with amazement.

One of the best moments of the concert, in my opinion, was when the bongo player’s solo, surprising us with a tribal sort of singing.  Every other instrument silenced as the audience remained fixated on his rich natural voice.  Soon, the rest of the musicians gradually joined back in with a supportive echo.  The song grew more intense, sounding more like a rain dance.  With his arms flying fast on the drums, the crowd was taken over by the intensity of the rhythm.  I could feel my heartbeat match the beat of the drums as his hands moved faster, and when the music reached a climax the audience erupted in a thunderous applause!

Chucho Valdéz entranced me that night, fueling my appreciation for the art of jazz.  They band played with soul and passion.  I only wish I could have experienced the music in a more intimate setting – something about an Afro-Cuban jazz band in a formal theatre just didn’t quite feel authentic.

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My formula for writing a concert review goes a little like this…

  1. Go to the concert, try to find a way to get free ticket and sit at close as possible. Rules:
  • Arrive at least 15 minutes beforehand.  Find your seat, go to the bathroom, observe your surroundings and jot down what you see: how many seats are filled, demographics of the audience members, the setting, etc. Pay attention to details!
  • Clap at the end of each song.
  • Don’t comment on the performance to other people until after the concert. Try not to let other people’s voiced opinions influence your feelings about the concert, but take note of general reactions and thoughts.
  • Turn off your phone unless you are using it to take notes (but paper and pen is usually more appropriate).
  • Stay until the very end of the concert.

2.  Get a set list of the songs before the show if possible, this can usually be found in a playbill.

3.  Give basic information at the beginning of the article, including: name of the band, the venue, date of concert, names of key band members and the instruments played.

4.  Give details of how the music sounded, how it made you feel, how the musicians performed, and other information that answers the question — To what extent was this a successful performance and why?

5.  Give your opinion, but back it up with facts. Write creatively, but truthfully. Giving too much personal opinion could take away from your journalistic credibility, but writing nothing but dry facts makes it a boring read.

6. Consider pouring yourself a cup of hot coffee or tea, or even venturing out to a local coffee shop to write your review. It should be relatively easy and fun to write, so make yourself comfortable and let your fingers type away.

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