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Ramon Valle – Take Off – In & Out Records Limited Edition IOR CD 77121-9 Ltd. Deluxe Ed. CD (49:07) + DVD (45:46) [Distr. by Allegro] [5/21/15] ****:

(Ramon Valle – piano; Omar Rodriguez Calvo – doublebass; Ernesto Simpson – drums)

Ramon Valle was immersed in the world of jazz as a child in Cuba. His father played trumpet with Los Chicos De Cuba. Additionally, he introduced the youngster to American jazz, including Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. Valle graduated from the esteemed Havana Escuela Nacional de Arte. Versed in the classics of Beethoven, Stravinsky, Bach and Mozart, he was equally influenced by jazz pianists like Thelonious Monk and Keith Jarrett. Like many great players, this merger of disciplined classical music and improvisational jazz defined his musical aesthetics. Valle moved to Europe and is an emerging international jazz artist.

In & Out Records has released a dual-disc (CD+DVD) that offers a studio and live performance of this pianist and his trio. Disc 1 (the CD) opens with a percussive cover of Jerome Kern’s Broadway classic, “All The Things You Are”. Valle’s punctuated rhythm patterns evoke the precision of Cuban jazz (and classical music) with instrumental flair. Omar Rodriguez Calvo (doublebass) executes a deft solo and combines with drummer Ernesto Simpson to propel this spirited excursion. “Steps In The Night” an original is a homage to Coltrane with scintillating piano runs and propulsive dynamics. Simpson offers some drum breaks, and the explosive, meticulous tempo changes are stellar. Stevie Wonder has been an inspiration for many jazz players. Valle’s cover of “Es Una Historia” (from the masterpiece Songs In The Key Of Life) captures the imagery of the song with original chord shifts and cadences. Valle’s solo at 2:14 is scintillating and creative.

Valle explores Cuban musical themes with a soul/blues translation on “Trance Dance In Blue”. Most of the material is original. But his selection of cover material is compelling. On Leonard Cohen’s hymnal “Hallelujah”, Valle imbues the arrangement with meditative grace and slow-burning gospel aesthetics. His prominent swaying version of Michel Legrand’s cinematic “What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life” draws on the innate delicacy of the melody and expands it with jazzy suppleness. Valle’s gifted as a composer. “Levitando” soars with fiery, complex instrumental agility and graceful textures. It is a highlight among highlights with a moody, song-ending section. Valle’s meshing of lyrical melodies and jazzy nuance resonates on tracks like “Y Si Volviera”. Again, Calvo and Simpson interact perfectly with him. This innate reinvention of form and structure adapts folk-like, exuberant sentiment into jazzy phrasing, especially on “Cinco Hermanas”. The quasi-lullaby intro to “Principe Enano” quickly morphs into up-tempo swing featuring another great piano solo. On a much different interpretation, “Kimbara Pa’ Nico” is a halting, seemingly avante-garde jam that lets the trio cut loose.

This deluxe edition of Take Off includes a bonus DVD with an in-studio performance featuring ten tracks from the CD. Valle discusses some of his musical heritage in closeup.  His personal intensity and chemistry with his bandmates is on full display.

TrackList: 

Disc 1 (CD): All The Things You Are; Steps In The Night; Es Una Historia; Trance Dance In Blue; Hallelujah; Principe Enano; Y Si Volviera; Levitando; Cinco Hermanas; What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life; Kimbara Pa’ Nico

Disc 2 (DVD): Principe Enano; Y Si Volviera; Es Una Historia; What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life; Cinco Hermanas; All The Things You Are; Hallelujah; Kimbara Pa’ Nico; Trance Dance In Blue; Levitando

–Robbie Gerson