In 'Take Off,' Ramon Valle Makes The Piano Sing

May 18, 2015
Originally published on May 18, 2015 5:36 pm
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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic, Kevin Whitehead, has a review of a new album by Ramon Valle, who grew up in Cuba and now lives in Europe. Kevin says Valle isn't well known in the states, but he's in the tradition of Cuban pianists like Bebo and Chuchos Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMON VALLE TRIO SONG, "ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Ramon Valle's Trio, doing some syncopated steps on the standard, "All The Things You Are." Their new album, "Take Off," isn't perfect. But the best of it really makes the case for the pianist and his trio. In the great Cuban tradition, Valle hits his notes with such clarity and strings them together so well, he makes the piano sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMON VALLE TRIO SONG)

WHITEHEAD: Ramon Valle, with bassist Omar Rodriguez Calvo and drummer Ernesto Simpson. They've known each other since they were young'uns in Cuba. And with that shared experience, they feel and anticipate each other's timing. Sometimes, they all think like drummers, looking for ways to make the rhythms interlock in the classic Cuban manner.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMON VALLE TRIO SONG)

WHITEHEAD: Ramon Valle left Cuba in the 1990s, but he was looking outside the island for inspiration even before that. He cites Keith Jarrett as one influence and some of the young Jarrett's rolling rhythms echo in Valle's oldie, "Levitando" and on the solo he takes on it here.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMON VALLE TRIO SONG, "LEVITANDO")

WHITEHEAD: When Ramon Valle keeps it crisp, he can hardly go wrong, with percolating bass and drums at his back. But the pianist also has a more romantic, even schmaltzy side, where he tries to wow you with a ballad. Then he may show off his technique in a way that doesn't help, like when he plays a rippling undercurrent to Stevie Wonder's melody, "I Am Singing." It's spun sugar on an already sweet cake.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMON VALLE TRIO SONG, "I AM SINGING")

WHITEHEAD: Hey, nobody's perfect. If Ramon Valle's album "Take Off" only knocks me out about half the time, 500 is not that bad a batting average.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMON VALLE TRIO SONG)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Take Off," the new album by Cuban pianist Ramon Valle, on the In and Out label. Coming up, our TV critic David Bianculli gives us his impressions of last night's series finale of "Mad Men." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.