@ the PizzaExpress Jazz Club
13 November 2010
Click an image to enlarge.
Ramón Valle (born 1964) was only seven years old when he
started studying the piano at the Escuela Provincial de Arte in
his home town of Holguín, Cuba. He graduated from Havana's
Escuela Nacional de Arte in 1984. His exceptional talent was discovered
in 1985 when he performed in a double concert with fellow Cuban
pianist, Emiliano Salvador, who died prematurely seven years later.
As solo artist and as leader of the jazz quartet Brújula,
Valle appeared at numerous festivals (Mexico DF, Bogotá,
Havana Jazz Festival) and was soon an established name in the Cuban
and Latin American jazz scene. In 1991 Silvio Rodríguez,
founder of the Nueva Trova, asked him to join his band Diákara,
which he stayed with until 1993.
The greatest talent among our young pianists,’ Chucho Valdés,
prominent musician and founder of Irakere, used these words to introduce
Ramón Valle on his debut album Levitando (1993). On this
first CD, Valle revealed himself as a pianist with a sound of his
own. Although the influence of classical music and especially of
the triumvirate Jarrett-Corea-Hancock can be heard, the remarkable
thing about Valle's music is his ability to weld these diverse influences
to create a unique style that eludes traditional categories. Rather
than being a pianist who plays Latin Jazz or Cuban Jazz, Valle is
a Cuban jazz pianist. He produces pure, contemporary jazz. Although
clearly present, his Cuban roots never form the basis of his pieces.
In his own words: ‘I am a Cuban musician who falls within
the category called 'jazz', but my music borders on many other musical
forms. Sometimes I feel like a troubadour, because I tell stories,
stories without words.’At the same time, Valle charms his
audiences with the charisma and expressiveness he brings to his
renditions. His relationship with the piano is completely physical.
His musical stories grip and enchant from the first. They tell themselves.
When he first performed in Europe -invited by Barcelona's Jamboree
Jazz Club- critics were struck by Valle's virtuosity and technical
perfection. Under the headline "Well-Earned Success",
Spain's leading newspaper El País described him as: A pianist
an with incredible technique. Besides being extraordinarily rhythmic,
there are also depths of subtlety in his touch. His version of contemporary
jazz is unexpected, versatile and seductive. A pianist with a great
After this European debut, Ramón Valle went on to great
success at other European and Latin American venues. That same year
saw the release of Piano Solo, his second CD. Comprised once again
of his own compositions, it was characterized by great originality
and powerful lyricism, but especially by Valle's ability to evoke
diverse atmospheres within a single composition. In 1998 Ramón
Valle settled in Europe, where his tours of Germany, Spain and Scandinavia
have elicited unanimous praise: Valle is pure energy... a whirlwind
that drags along everyone and everything... Valle is risk, challenging
the audience with unbounded creativity that refuses to bow to the
slightest concession... Valle is Jazz... Valle demonstrates that
the world of jazz needs to reserve a separate chapter just for him.
The audience was witness to this at his first appearance in the
North Sea Jazz (2000), where Valle was described as the great surprise
of the festival. And again, at the 2001 edition of the North Sea
Jazz he demonstrated why, together with his quartet and the Canadian
flutist/saxophonist Jane Bunnet. The press wrote about his compositional
and pianistic skills: Ramón Valle composes themes of unsurpassed
beauty, then takes intense delight in tearing them apart. But what
blissful staccato! His piano is "free" but never freaky.
Warm romantic themes, which he caresses lovingly, then suddenly
strangling them with equal lovingness. Valle never loses himself
in his battle against his own romanticism. He stays in command,
even teasing audiences with his 'Jazz Cubano'.
In 2002 Valle first recorded with the German label ACT, Danza
Negra. It is a personal, unorthodox view of the work of Ernesto
Lecuona, one of Cuba's great classical composers. Surrounded by
his quintet, with Perico Sambeat on alto sax and Horacio 'el Negro'
Hernández drums, Valle created with this contemporary interpretation
a bridge between Cuba and jazz, between the present and the past.
In the same year Valle was discovered at international festivals
such as the Montreux Festival, the Leverkusen Festival and, in his
own country, at the festival de Jazz Plaza Habana as a pianist and
composer who is clearly following his own path in his music.
In 2002 Valle met the trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and their musical
rendez-vous resulted in a performance by the Ramón Valle
Quitet featuring Roy Hargrove during the North Sea Jazz 2003. Hargrove
commented on Valle after their first concert together: ‘I
was totally blown away. There is lots of sensitivity in his playing.
The music was incredible. Ramón is such a great talent. He'
s got a good touch and amazing dexterity and nice ideas. He knows
how to play soft and he still like builds so many things. There's
so many bags he can reach from. It’s really a pleasure listening
to him and play with him as well.’
In January 2003 Valle proved his talents as orchestra leader and
composer in the large hall of the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam,
where Mixed-up Mokum was premiered, a composition for the city of
Amsterdam commissioned by the Amsterdams Foundation for the Arts.
It is intended for an ensemble of ten musicians, and moves in the
shadowy area between jazz, improvised music and classical music.
In four movements Valle tells us about his first impressions of
His own approach is, as he puts it himself 'not one hundred percent
Cuban, but one hundred percent me, my trio. I would like to break
with the label Latin Jazz that everybody knows so well and that
people associate with hot congas.’ In No Escape Valle explores
his earlier narratives further, in close collaboration with his
musicians who each have their defined role in the trio. ‘That
is what I am looking for in my music: three rhythmic levels, three
melodic lines who meet on the way. Three communicating vessels.
This album is the result of a conversation with my musicians. Music
is talking, raising your voice, voicing your opinion. Every day
when I sit down at the piano is another quest for new words. For
my own voice.’