MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Sony has released The Best of Irakere, which we're recommending for your NPR Basic Jazz Record Library. Irakere was formed in Havana, Cuba in the late 1960s by the masterful pianist Jesus Chucho Valdés. Its music hit America in the late 70s. Everybody knew that something was going on in Cuba. And it was so good, it was stunning, or at least it was to me, A.B. Spellman.
A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: It was to me too, Murray. I had no idea that there were jazz musicians so skilled, so imaginative, and so flat-out hip in Cuba.
SPELLMAN: They were firmly unified in their conception of a music that extended the idea of a Latin jazz far beyond anything that we had heard before. All eleven of these cats in the original Irakere could play. Three of them became internationally prominent. They were the trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, and, of course, the pianist and composer Chucho Valdés, who now stands with a handful of his peers at the very summit of jazz piano.
HORWITZ: You know this was never a band that was stuck in one groove. There's a lot of variety on this record. Right? They have this Afro-Cuban music that puts Cuba's African culture out front to an even playful take off on Mozart. Right?
SPELLMAN: I think this is because Cuban musical culture is so rich. No other country in the world understands rhythm like Cuba, and this rhythmic scope gives Irakere plenty of flexibility. Here's Paquito D'Rivera having fun with the Mozart clarinet concerto.
HORWITZ: I mean, you're right, he can play. There's all that virtuosity, all that emotion, the humor, and that glorious Latin swing. They made for a solid balanced record that we think you'll return to again and again. The CD is The Best of Irakere. It's on Sony's Columbia Jazz Contemporary Master's label. For information about this and other CDs, consult our Web site. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.
SPELLMAN: And, I'm A.B. Spellman.