Track lists alone should tell you something about the omnivorous tastes of pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the Cuban jazz pianist whose style is steeped both in Afro-Latin traditions and in the Blue Note records he consumed while growing up. And the song choices on his latest offering are particularly classy: four originals, a few not-so-obvious standards, and a few culled from his friends' discographies. Among the ten are "Alafia," by West African guitarist and frequent collaborator Lionel Loueke (who sings in a high warble over his own guitar solo), and a lean, percussive version of "Lennie's Pennie's," a bebop piece by pianist Lennie Tristano.
Though he's characterized as a Latin composer, Rubalcaba tends toward modern jazz — meaning he likes pungent harmonies and beats that swing. He'll sometimes evoke a form without sticking to it exactly, as he does with the hybrid cha-cha beat that serves as scaffolding for Enrique Ubieta's "Son XXI." At other times, he'll reinterpret a tune by sacrificing its sentiment, as he does on the Tristano cover. Rubalcaba's version of the Bill Evans ballad "Time Remembered," for instance, is a reverent reflection on (and departure from) its source material. The groove and chord voicings seem a little crisper and lighter than Evans would have liked, but the late master's ghost hovers everywhere in Rubalcaba's drawn-out introduction.
If anything, Rubalcaba proves that it's possible to treat jazz as a pastiche art form and still retain all the sensitivity and musical depth that we associate with bebop of the Fifties and Sixties. He came up in a generation that defined itself largely on multiculturalism, and nowhere is that more apparent than on XXI Century. It's an album that lurches forward, while gathering influences from all sides. (5Passion)
Culture Spy - February 23, 2:42 PM
What the Fork - February 23, 2:12 PM
Seven Days - February 21, 3:30 PM
Culture Spy - February 19, 1:45 PM
Seven Days - February 18, 5:00 PM