Album Review: Yelfris Valdés – For the Ones… [Música Macondo Records; October 2019]

In the world of music, there is one rags-to-riches story yet to be matched – the most universal rhythmic pattern, today associated with Latin American music, that went by the name of son clave in mid-19th century Cuba, al-thaqil al-awwal in 13th-century Persia, and Konkonkolo in 600 BCE in West-Africa. Little did the Yorubans realise that, one millennia later, their descendants would take the unique 12/8 polyrhythm in slave ships to the four corners of the earth, where it would influence new generations of musicians in every genre under the sun.

One of them is an Afro-Cuban trumpeter, Yelfris Valdés, who placed himself on the A-Z of the London jazz scene last year with The World of Eshu Dina. While the EP retraced his steps back to Yorubaland, the debut album For the Ones… is a musical journey in reverse. With its rich reverb, blooming lower frequencies and Valdés’ meditative style of playing, For the Ones… is so far from the overproduced studio gimmicks of the 21st century, it could almost be a live album.

Given the distance the album sets out to cover, detours along the way are inevitable. Compared to the rest of the songs, the solo piece ‘For the One Still Living’ lacks depth, and slipping into a jazz standard halfway through ‘After Sly’ makes the band sound like they have too much time on their hands, although it doesn’t take too long from them to get back on course.

Setting off with a traditional Central-African call-and-response in ‘Canta Congo’, Valdés gets into the gnawa vibe in ‘Maktub’ featuring Moroccan Simo Lagnawi on guembri, then makes a spectacular return to jazz with ‘Full Moon’, closely followed by ‘Ancestry’ that has Senegalese Modou Touré on vocals, before going out with a bang.

With Carmen Martorell at the helm, her spirited take on ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus is a testament to the magnitude of human resilience that continues to ensure the lifeblood of culture keeps running in our veins: “No matter how hard the world pushes against you, within you there is always something stronger, something better pushing right back.”