Like grand pianos, there's only so much room for players of the dignity and elegance of Ramon Valle. They need space around them; they dominate the auditorium; they command that you listen. It's like dining at a three Michelin-starred restaurant - a pleasure of the highest order, but one the palate best appreciates as a contrast to more ordinary daily consumption.
Valle's style is quite different to that of most pianists we hear in Britain. He barely "swung" in the strict sense all evening, preferring evenly-divided quavers and latin clavas to lazily dotted notes, and his emphatic touch on the keyboard is a million miles from the fey, hesitant fumblings sometimes heard in London clubs. On his first visit to the country, the Cuban displayed a formality of approach and a grandeur of execution that would, perhaps, come across as too buttoned-up in an Anglo-Saxon, but seemed evident of a patrician sensitivity in Valle.
His excellent trio showed a fondness for tempos in three and six, lending his compositions the quality of sinuous, extended waltzes, far more lilting and less earthy than the more constrictive 4/4. Harmonically he was quite old-fashioned, striking me at one point as almost classical. The modernity in his playing came through the power of the statement rather than obvious dissonance or electronic trickery.
Nowhere was this clearer than in the second half, when a repeated motif built up like a funeral procession emerging from a distance. As the cortege came closer - and Valle would not be rushed, allowing the moment all the time it needed to gather its strength - the motif gave way to a remembrance, a widow grieving eloquently for her dead husband, before a huge up-welling as though every member of the procession was pouring out their grief. Valle brought a sense of dramatic beauty to the smallest phrase, which led to a silence before vehement applause in the club.
The second half also saw Valle's trio at their more playful, having seemed just a little restrained before the interval. Some virtuoso displays by the leader were followed by several solos from Omar Rodriguez Calvo, Valle's double bass player, who has one of the most delightfully bendy, sensuous tones I've heard live in ages, each note pushing to its conclusion ever so smoothly against well-sprung, discrete buffers. Not for him the bizarre trend for making the double bass sound as woody and unappealing as a rackety old tea chest. I could have listened to his inventive lines all evening.
Valle's visit to the UK was for only one night, but I'm sure we will be welcoming back this powerful pianist very soon. His playing commands a swift return invitation.Reuse content