2002, August / Pepesito Reyes

Pepesito Reyes

Pepesito Reyes

Who says labels will only sign young artists? Ah, the blessings of jazz and world music, where the talent is what gets you signed, rather than the image. A club legend in New York continuing to perform around the world, Reyes is the 85-year-old master of Cuban piano whose plucky, jazzy, and fiery style is fresh, hip, and maybe even young. Reyes has performed with Benny Moore, Duke Ellington, Nat "King" Cole, Tito Puente, and countless others; his free-flowing improvisational style has influenced generations of pianists, and this spirited jaunt confirms why.

This is a brilliant collection of danzon, the elegant dance music which swept through the 1920s Cuban music scene from Havana to New York. It opens with a gentle, very romantic reading of "Begin the Beguine," which includes dramatic arpeggios and speedy improvisations over a lilting accordian-laced groove. "Escucha Mi Piano" begs us to listen to the piano, but it's not overly flashy; there are moments of intensity, but for the most part, it's an easy meditation. "My Baby Just Cares for Me" is a classic swing tune that sounds like it could be an outtake from a Diana Krall project. Those who feel the opening tracks don't capture enough brass energy are rewarded with the Puente-flavored mariachi vocal style of "Mami Me Gusto" and the seductive violin-splashed "Bodas De Oro." Reyes works well in ensembles and with a variety of vocalists, but his solo passages also stand out. A good introduction to a new generation who longs for the way music used to be.

By Jonathan Widran