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“Fé” Recording Sessions

Carlos Alvarez and Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Gonzalo From Above

Bill Cosby and Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Sound Check

A New Band Gives a Pianist a Fresh Context-By BEN RATLIFF- The New York Times August 19-2007

Gonzalo Rubalcaba, a pianist of almost supernatural abilities, has a new band and new songs. On Tuesday night at the Jazz Standard the music was both imposing and not quite cooked. Probably the quintet’s run at the club this week will make it breathe and cohere before it is recorded in the studio next month. But the music is worth hearing at the very least because you can sense Mr. Rubalcaba’s playing in a new context. And that context is a new-style New York rhythm section, as shrewd and skillful as they come. Most often, over the last 20 years, he has played with the drummer Ignacio Berroa, who was born in Cuba (as was Mr. Rubalcaba) and has been absorbing jazz rhythm since the mid-’60s. His playing gives the music a different cast, a little more open and generous, and much more Cuban. This week the drummer is Marcus Gilmore, one of a small group of drummers under 30 who are actually changing the way jazz sounds. His style is splintered but organized, constantly changing without ever being “free,” richly precise in detail. The bassist is Matt Brewer, who has been playing with young bandleaders like Logan Richardson and Aaron Parks, and has made a record with one of the emerging jazz musicians’ lodestar figures, Greg Osby. Those two, with Mr. Rubalcaba, create the central action in the group. In the new music there are opaque ballads with modern European classical harmonies, tunes with 6/8 polyrhythm and 4/4 swing, and pieces with shifting tempos and melodies. This isn’t Latin jazz per se, or even Mr. Rubalcaba’s original version of it; it’s more recognizably modern mainstream New York jazz.

The quintet also includes the trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, from Florida, and the saxophonist Yosvany Terry, a Cuban-born New Yorker. And though they were playing at the top of their abilities — Mr. Terry phrasing fast as he jumped in and out of the rhythm, and Mr. Rodriguez crafting soft and highly melodic flugelhorn solos — their parts represented a more common vision of jazz. They harmonized, they played solos when their turns came up, and then they waited off-stage for their appointed moment to come back.

This would all be good enough, except that the trio alone had such clear possibility. Piano, bass and drums made all possible combinations: soloing, collective improvisation, one accompanying another. And the connection between Mr. Rubalcaba and Mr. Gilmore — even at this early stage — was extraordinary, since both are fascinated by microscopic matters of touch and tone. The challenge for Mr. Rubalcaba will be to bring the horn players more into the weave of the music. Sit close to Mr. Rubalcaba, because he has a tendency to load the music with tension by playing complex passages quietly, using dark, dense harmony; the delicacy of his touch makes it seem as if he were pulling notes out of the piano rather than pushing them in. At one point, toward the end of Tuesday’s first set, he showed what he was once famous for: blinding speed in forthright rhythm. But normally he was running in the other direction, toward slow tempos, an almost self-erasing softness and a kind of improvisation that crisply and deliberately kept its distance from the beat.

The Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet performs through Sunday night at the Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, Manhattan; (212) 576-2232.

A Pianist Happy to Let Others Do the Driving-By NATE CHINEN-The New York Times


About a year and a half ago the redoubtable Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba took a new band into the studio. He had broken in his sidemen, a clutch of young New York progressives, with a weeklong run at the Jazz Standard. It was minimal preparation, given the demands of the music involved, and yet it produced strong results: “Avatar,” released on Blue Note last year, is one of his warmest and most rewarding albums. Mr. Rubalcaba and his crew are back at the club this week, as part of a programming blitz tied to Blue Note’s 70th anniversary. Their second set on Tuesday had all the spark and sophistication of “Avatar,” from which it drew exclusively. But every aspect of the music felt hardier and more intuitive, more fully absorbed into the metabolism of the group. The front line, with Mike Rodriguez on trumpet and Yosvany Terry on saxophones, fell into sync with exacting ease, sounding bright and sleek. The rhythm section, anchored by the perceptive bassist Matt Brewer and the astutely nimble drummer Marcus Gilmore, fed a sort of jet-stream propulsion, shifting among styles and tempos without a perceptible hitch. (Mr. Gilmore is scheduled to play again on Friday; his replacement on the other two remaining nights, Justin Brown, has some difficult shoes to fill.) And Mr. Rubalcaba was scrupulous and terse with his pianism, more so than on the album. He allowed himself just a few effusive, bulletlike runs, choosing elsewhere to play concise figures at a medium-soft volume. Focusing his attention on an exceptionally precise touch at the keyboard — at times he seemed to be weighing the physical properties of each note — he willed himself into the background. During one brisk, searching solo by Mr. Rodriguez, Mr. Rubalcaba laid out almost entirely, providing little more than punctuation. The goal behind such restraint is to shape the action ever more subtly, and in that sense Mr. Rubalcaba was ahead of the game. The band seemed charged by the acuteness of his listening, poised to respond to his slightest signal. Some of the most astonishing playing of the set took place in the stir behind Mr. Terry and Mr. Rodriguez, who responded by elevating their level of performance (especially in the case of Mr. Rodriguez). When things took a turn toward extroversion — on Mr. Rubalcaba’s radiant closer, “Infantil” — the band was ready. Intense but mindful, it reflected an evolving standard, fulfilling its promise but not its potential, which is good news all around.

The Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet performs through Saturday at the Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, Manhattan; (212) 576-2232,

Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quinteto – Hip Side (fragm.)

Gonzalo and Chick “Improvisation”

Live 2010 Courtesy of Simon Sounds

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