Live Review: Chucho Valdés Quintet at the Green Music Center

Posted by on Nov 12, 2012 | Comments (3)

It’s a concert hall hailed for impeccable acoustics, but the Green Music Center had an unfortunate reverberation to deal with after Chucho Valdes’ performance on Sunday night—the mutterings from the audience about the show’s bad sound mix.

Out in the lobby immediately after the show, I ran into a jazz radio DJ and a professional pianist, both going down the list of problems. The piano was tinny and abrasive. The drums were far too loud. The piano, in turn, was turned up in the mix to compensate, which only made everything worse, and although Valdés tried to talk into the microphone after each song, it wasn’t turned on for 40 minutes.

I heard the same problems during the show, but I sat in the seats behind the stage, where the sound is bound to be a little strange. Was it really that bad out on the floor? I decided to find out, and a stroll around the lobby yielded even harsher criticism.

“It was the worst sound I’ve ever experienced,” one man spat out, helplessly. He cited bad bass EQ and a delay on the percussion as causes of cacophony. His friend agreed: “They should have just played unamplified. The guys behind the board didn’t know what they were doing.”

Back inside the main hall, I found more people standing around, pointing to the stage and soundboard, talking about the sound, and even while walking out to the parking lot, I overheard a couple wondering why the drums had to be turned up so loud.

All of this is a shame, because Chucho Valdés and his quintet played tremendously throughout their 90-minute set. Opening with a dizzying epic that stitched together about eight different compositions, Valdés came roaring out of the gate, alternately peeling off lightning fast Art Tatum-like technicality, algebraic syncopation, earthy blues invocations and avant-garde thunder. Occasionally, he leaned so far into the keyboard the the rear legs of his piano bench came off the floor.

The rest of his band operated like a four-man chain through which surged a communal voltage, evidenced, physically, by the jitterings of bassist Angel Perellada and punctuated, musically, by the many drum, conga and bata drum solos of the night. (Drummer Rodney Barreto, in particular, teased time with rapid rolls, out-of-sync beats and a dash of theatrics.) I thought of the Stan Kenton album Cuban Fire, an overly academic, diluted take on Cuban music. This group tonight? This was Cuban fire.

It’s only too bad the fire was lost in the sound mix, because the Green Music Center really does have incredible acoustics. Want proof? During a soft duet tonight between Valdés and Perellada—bowing an arco bass—a man in the crowd let out a very loud, very sustained belch.

Believe me when I say that everyone could hear it throughout the whole hall.

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  1. nick grizzle
    November 12, 2012

    this is the saddest thing i have read all day. Chucho deserves better.

  2. Mark Tele
    November 14, 2012

    Just saw Chucho and his band last night in Folsom @ 3 Stages, also known for great acoustics. The sound mix was excellent. Don’t know what the issues were at Sonoma State, but it’s too bad because the band delivered a great performance last night. The Steinway Chucho was playing sounded sooo good. Must be the house piano – looked/sounded like the same one Marcus Roberts was on a couple months ago. Can’t imagine moving a Steinway from venue to venue. Whatever “tinny and abrasive” instrument you have at SSU, it needs to be replaced.

  3. 1NewOpinion
    November 17, 2012

    I attended the concert but had another sense of the quality. Yes Valdes was great, yes the sound engineers were incompetent. What was wrong was the bass player and the drummer sitting to the bass players left, terrible gratuitous rock like solos by the drummer and the bass player too was was a poor musician.


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