A cold night in Leeds was lit up and warmed by the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Yelfris Valdés and his band on Sunday 1st of March 2020. Valdés, who released ‘For The Ones…’ in 2019 to critical acclaim, came to Hyde Park Book Club on the back of a gig in Manchester, and before playing in Bristol on the 3rd of March.
The gig was put on by HPBC Records, a hub for Leeds jazz, and DJ and saxophonist Henry Weekes. From 7:30.p.m DJs Tim Garcia and Minus Kendal (Fin Nugent-Smith) played records upstairs before Ancient Infinity Orchestra performed at 8:15.p.m.
The Orchestra’s set up alone was enough to bring about excitement. There was a harp, keys, a bass clarinet, an oboe, a violin, tenor and alto saxophones and flutes, alongside drums, chimes, two double basses and a guitar. All of which complimented each other and were played expertly.
They opened on ‘Ancient Runes’ from their fantastic album ‘Solar Seasons’ (2020) which is on both Spotify and Bandcamp. Other tracks included the beautiful tune ‘In The Light of the Winter Sun’, at a fitting time of year, and a three-verse piece dedicated to the music of Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane. The melodies, sung this time by harpist Georgie Buchanan, were reminiscent of the beauty of John Coltrane’s melodies in tracks like in ‘After the Rain’ and ‘Welcome’.
The music was sometimes frantic and exciting, sometimes gorgeous and tranquil, and sometimes tight and swinging, the latter parts reminding me of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. I will definitely be seeing Ancient Infinity Orchestra again.
Once the Orchestra’s set was over, a short break preceded Yelfris Valdés and his band: a smaller outlet with Ayoze de Alejandro on drums, Jonathan Idiagbonya on keys, Sylvain Couesemes providing the beats and effects, Abel Addington on the bass, and Valdés himself, sometimes on the trumpet and sometimes on the flugelhorn. Together, the band gave the audience a set of all things in the realm of current jazz, electronica and the rhythmic virtuoso found in traditional Cuban and Afro-Cuban music.
Gilles Peterson, who has a particular fondness for Cuban jazz and Afro-Cuban music, has said that Valdés is a ‘very important new generation Cuban artist’. As a performer with Buena Vista Social Club and Barbarito Torres, Yelfris Valdés brings the best of the fire and heat of Cuban music and pairs it with spiritual chants from the Orishas, topping it all off with the contemporary electronic-inclined jazz that the UK knows today.
Yelfris Valdés has played with the likes of Madonna and Damon Albarn, as well as names in the UK’s jazz scene like Moses Boyd and Yussef Kamaal, the latter from Peterson’s own label Brownswood. Valdés gave his all on stage, with many tracks from his 2019 album ‘For The Ones…’ including ‘Maktub’ and ‘Red Eclipse’, the latter beginning with a throbbing synth-effect provided by Couesemes before being greeted by a bass-drum kick and Valdés’s horn.
At one stage an audience member requested ‘Carmen’, a song from the same album. ‘I’ll need you to sing along,’ Valdés explained, ‘and you can’t stop.’ The whole crowd sung the trumpet melody, with Valdés embarking on exquisite trills and riffs with his horn. It was a beautiful moment, and proved how Valdés can hold a crowd with nothing but his trumpet.
The final tune was ‘After Sly’, a glorious piece of music with an unrelenting bass groove topped by a fantastic beat and smooth chords on the keys. These as the foundation gave Valdés the time to shine on the trumpet. It was a perfect tune to end the set on, that is, before the encore of course.
Yelfris Valdés is a shining light in the jazz of today, and his inspirations from all over the globe, with particular attention to his country of Cuba, proves how multifaceted his music is, as is jazz in general.
Today’s jazz scene has a lot of focus on London, owed in part to influences like Gilles Peterson, and bands based there like Ezra Collective, Kokoroko and Sons of Kemet. Valdés himself moved to North London from Cuba. However bands like Ancient Infinity Orchestra, along like Têtes de Pois and Vipertime, prove that Leeds is also a home for new and exciting jazz music.
Both the support act and the headliner provided Hyde Park Book Club with brilliant sets of different strands of jazz. I would implore everyone to see both Ancient Infinity Orchestra and Yelfris Valdés.
Check out Ally's rapid review of Yelfris's For the Ones... here.
You can keep up-to-date with Yelfris Valdés via his website and socials: