Jazz Batá 2, composer, pianist and bandleader Chucho Valdés' first album for Mack Avenue Records, marks a new peak of creativity for the artist, even as it revisits the small-group concept of his 1972 Cuban album Jazz Batá. That album upon release was originally considered experimental at the time, but the trio project - featuring no drum set and two virtuosi who would subsequently be charter members of Irakere: Carlos del Puerto (bass) and Oscar Valdés (batâ: the sacred, hourglass shaped drums of the Yoruba religion in Cuba) - would now be considered contemporary. Recorded in two and a half days at John Lee's studio in New Jersey, Jazz Batá 2 is both rhythmic and lyrical at once. The six-hand complexity of the batá repertoire - the deep classical music of West Africa - permeates Valdés' piano solos throughout the album. "I applied to my solos the different rhythms of the batá," he says. "The piano is of course a harmonic instrument, but it's percussive too, and you can play percussion with it." Valdés set the batá-driven small-group format aside in the wake of Irakere's explosive popularity in 1973, but he's always wanted to get back to it. Now he's done it with Jazz Batá 2, "with more resources, in every sense," he says, "with a wider panorama."