INTERVIEW: Ramón Valle (at Ronnie Scott’s 29 Aug/new album The Time is Now)

Ramón Valle
Publicity Photo by Gerhard Richter

“You don’t need to play free jazz to feel free in jazz,” says Amsterdam-based Cuban pianist RAMÓN VALLE, who will be with his trio at Ronnie Scott’s on 29 August with saxophonist Perico Sambeat. He has a new album out, The Time is Now (In + Out Records), featuring trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Interview by Yannick Le Maintec: 

Yannick Le Maintec: You have released three very different albums in the past three years: Take Off (2015), a retrospective of your work performed live, The Art of Two (2017), a classically inspired flute/piano duet, and The Time is Now, your new album. Tell us about these albums  

Ramón Valle: Each of these albums has its own personality. Take Off is focused on my acoustic trio. It explores all the ideas I have from my perspectives as a jazz musician. I also play tunes that I played before with a different perspective, a more adult approach.

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The Art of Two is a homage to my family, the Valle family. It is a conversation between two cousins. Orlando (“Maraca“ Valle, flautist) and I felt the necessity to thank our family, our grandparents, my mother, my father and Orlando’s branch who always has been there for us.

YLM: The Time Is Now is full of surprises. Is it the Ramón Valle pop album?

RV: You know, as a musician you need to stay connected to what is going on around you. I asked my children, my daughter Dayla and my son Fabio: “What kind of music do you listen to?” They said: Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande, Beyonce… They gave me the albums [He laughs], I went back to my studio and began to write music inspired by those vibrations. This is how The Time is Now was born.

YLM: Despite its inspiration, The Time is Now sounds like in the ’70s or the ’80s…

RV: Exactly. The essence is the same. Here is the origin of the opening title, Timeless Generation. When I was checking out this music, I realized that it was basically old music. The harmonies, the rhythm section are the same than in the ’70s. For children, this is fresh music, but for us this is the same music by new musicians!

YLM: There are several things which are new in this album. Besides the piano, you play Fender Rhodes.

RV: Playing Rhodes is not natural for me because my whole body is attracted by the piano, but I used to do it before. I played both keyboard and piano with Silvio Rodríguez and Santiago Feliú.

YLM:  Did you use a Vocoder ?

RV: Yes, I did. I encountered many difficulties in finding the right model. Using a Vocoder was not a gadget. I planned it. I used it as a instrument.

YLM: So, you play piano, Fender and Vocoder…

RV: Yes. I am the only musician who works three times as hard as the others… for the same wages. I’m not much of a businessman! [laughs]

YLM: You invited Roy Hargrove to play on your album. How did the two of you meet?

RV: Roy is my brother!!! I met him at North Sea Jazz long time ago, around 2000.

He saw me rehearsing, playing Kimbara Para Nico. He said “Wow!” and asked to talk to me. Horacio “El Negro ” Hernandez introduced us. Later, we played together music from Ernesto Lecuona in my album Danza Negra.

Every time he talks about me, he says: “He is the Master!” Every time we meet, he shouts at me: “Master!” I take it like a compliment because I have the same feelings about him: He is the Master!

YLM: Roy Hargrove plays an important role in The Time Is Now, doesn’t he?

RV: I decided to use his sound, his trumpet. I lost my mother and my father in a very short time the past year. They left in two months. I composed two tunes, one for my father who used to play trumpet and another for my mother…

To tell you the truth, at this very moment, only Roy could do it and I knew it because we have many connections. Having the trumpet on her tune was a symbol. I dreamt what I wanted to do and he did it perfectly.

YLM: In a few days, you will be playing with saxophonist Perico Sambeat at Ronnie Scott’s…

RV: Yes, I invited Perico Sambeat to play with the trio. He was my sax player on Danza Negra (ACT, 2002, no longer available). He will play Roy’s tunes from The Times Is Now and few more.

YLM: Your previous drummer Ernesto Simpson: did he just get too busy? You play now with a young Dutch drummer, Jamie Peet.

RV:  This is correct. Ernesto is so busy. He had gigs here and there… We talked much with Jamie. You need to let the piano sings, because the piano is the leader. Jamie is a good musician, he plays a little bass and piano. He listens to what is happening around. The drummer can be dominant but Jamie leaves space to everybody.

YLM: We could see the result in the concert you gave at North Sea Jazz. Jamie brings a new energy to the trio. The ensemble including him and Omar Rodriguez Calvo on double bass works pretty well.
That concert reminded me of a talk we had together at the Sunset in Paris. You told me how important freedom was for you as a musician. At North Sea, you played Levitando, your signature, and shortly after the main theme, you went elsewhere. Is this freedom to you?

RV: It is good that you talk about that because there can be confusion about freedom in jazz. You don’t need to play free jazz to feel free in jazz. It just is a state of mind. You can talk to people from different classes with different languages with the same liberty.

I am really happy that you noticed it. Did you see? I took off. In this freedom, I went to my gallery, filled with Stravinsky, Bach, Peruchín, and so many others…

YLM: The public was totally connected….

RV:  This is rewarding because on stage you open your heart. You don’t act,  I’m not giving tricks or clichés.

I have to tell you… I was suffering because of the heat – it was so warm! – I couldn’t open my eyes because of the salt on my eyelids. Later I saw the video of the concert. I was surprised to see that I was fully enjoying it!

YLM: It’s rare because at North Sea, you have so many concerts that many people go from room to room. They stayed and enjoyed the moment.

RV: That just proves we must go on ! [Ramón Valle bursts out laughing]

This interview is a co-publication with Le Monde’s “Le Jazz et la salsa” blog


GIG – Ronnie Scott’s details/ bookings: Ramón Valle trio with special guest Perico Sambeat. Wednesday 29 August 2018

ALBUM – Ramón Valle Trio : The Time Is Now (2018, In and Out Records- Artist Page)
 Ramon Valle biography

Categories: Feature/Interview

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