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Gonzalo Rubalcaba during a riveting solo performance Tuesday night… BY LARRY BLUMENFELD | JANUARY 16, 2015

10606266_10205747513669861_4678518110846224659_n-1Minutes into Tuesday night’s memorial concert for Charlie Haden at Manhattan’s Town Hall, on a screen above the stage, came the first of several excerpts from a documentary, “Rambling Boy,” that punctuated three-plus hours of music and testimonials. Here was Haden as a boy, no more than two or three, singing and yodeling with confident joy.

Long before Haden helped ignite a jazz revolution while in his early twenties, as bassist in saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s quartet; before he spent a decade in another landmark band led by pianist Keith Jarrett; before he formed his Liberation Music Orchestra, blending avant-garde, big-band jazz and Latin American folk traditions with bold political statements; before his Quartet West, which played noir ballads inspired by Raymond Chandler novels and movie themes; before memorable duet recordings of spirituals and hymns, and decades of collaborations with musicians that spanned three generations of jazz’s finest players and nearly all its idioms, Haden was “Cowboy Charlie,” a precocious toddler singing his way into listeners hearts on his parents’ radio show

Haden, who died in July 2014, at the age of 76, was born into musical family that performed what he liked to call “hillbilly music.” Haden’s love for sturdy, heartfelt melody and folk traditions were touchstones through his career, evident even within complex improvised settings. He fathered a musical brood, too. His four children — Petra, Rachel, Tanya and Josh, all accomplished musicians — harmonized beautifully Tuesday night on a version of Bill Monroe’s “Voice From on High,” accompanied by guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Mark Fain. Petra then sang the folk song “Oh, Shenandoah” in honor of Haden’s birthplace, Shenandoah, Iowa. (He grew up in Springfield, Mo.)

Haden was a family man, in a sense that implies the empathy and love, the tenderness and care that gives such designation meaning. Beyond technical skills and talent, he earned distinction in music by giving what was needed to fellow players to achieve communion that feels like a blood bond; in jazz, this means unspoken understandings and honest communication offered without hesitation or judgment. It’s customary to speak of great jazz bassists in terms of advancing or redefining the instrument’s role. Yet here’s how bassist Putter Smith expressed Haden’s contribution: “He gave us bassists permission to play with the kind of intimacy a mother has with a baby.”

The evening’s performances, mostly of Haden’s compositions, made a case for his body of work as one that will endure and deserves further interpretation. The spoken testimonials, along with the documentary clips, more or less traced the path and framed the influence of one remarkable musician. Yet what came across most powerfully was how Haden, through his music, presence, and personality, built bonds that seemed familial and coursed through actual families. And we received one after another example, through music and words, of how Haden led others to reveal themselves in moving and even brave ways.

The serene intimacy of “For Turiya,” as played by tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Geri Allen, and harpist Brandee Younger, had a relevant backstory: Haden composed it in 1976, to play in duet with Alice Coltrane, Ravi’s mother, after hearing her play harp, and to honor her devotion to Hindu Vedantic practice.

Ornette Coleman, now 84, didn’t feel well enough to attend the Town Hall event. His son Denardo testified, first about Haden’s relationship with his father. “It takes a special person to be willing to go on that journey,” he said of Haden’s commitment to Coleman’s demanding music, in the face of early and stinging criticisms. “They were stubborn, together.” When Ornette appointed Denardo, then age ten, as drummer for the album “The Empty Foxhole,” it was Haden who “made me feel like a musician,” Denardo said. “He was always on a mission to lift you up.”

A quartet of tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Kenny Barron, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and bassist Scott Colley played a particularly hard-hitting version of Haden’s “Blues for Pat.” Moments later, Redman’s words hit yet harder. His father, the late saxophonist Dewey Redman, had played with Haden in many distinguished contexts. Redman didn’t know his father well, he explained, but he knew his father’s records; the ones he liked best always turned out to be the ones with Haden. “Charlie brought out the love in my father’s playing — a warmth, tenderness, and honesty that few others brought out to the same degree,” he said. “In a strange way, Charlie helped me love my father.”

Guitarist Pat Metheny, who grew up in Lee’s Summit, Mo., recalled feeling an instant kinship based on geography upon meeting Haden 40 years ago. (They were duet partners for the Grammy-winning 1997 recording, “Beyond the Missouri Sky.”) At Town Hall, Metheny played a medley of three Haden songs on acoustic guitar — “Our Spanish Love Song,” “Waltz for Ruth,” and “First Song.” Through decades of work together, in wildly varying contexts, Metheny said, he felt a special, almost secret sense of communication with Haden. “We always played our little things,” he said. “I’ve never had that feeling again with anyone else.”

Metheny was 19 when he first met Haden, who was 17 years his elder. “But he wasn’t a father figure,” he said. “Because I felt like the older and more responsible one.”

“Charlie wasn’t a perfect person,” said Ruth Cameron Haden, his wife of 30 years, who organized the event and served as its host. He’d battled with polio as a teenager, which robbed him of his singing voice, and then, in his final years, was ravaged by post-polio syndrome. He’d struggled with drug addiction during one long stretch of his life, a fight he considered ongoing in some ways, she said. (“When I put my bass down,” she quoted him as saying, “I’m in trouble.”) But he was forever bent on improving, she said, and always fixed on a desire to “bring beauty to the world.”

It was about more than beauty, as Haden made clear throughout his career. While on tour with Ornette Coleman’s group in Portugal, in 1971, Haden dedicated his composition “Song for Ché” to the black liberation movements of Mozambique and Angola, and was promptly jailed (and soon rescued by Bob Jones, a cultural attaché to then-president Richard Nixon). His Liberation Music Orchestra’s 2005 album, “Not in Our Name,” was released as a protest against the Iraq War.

At Town Hall, Maurice Jackson, a history professor at Georgetown University and chair of the District of Columbia Commission on African American Affairs, who wrote liner notes for Haden’s recordings of spirituals, called up the legacy of the French-born pioneering American abolitionist Anthony Benezet in describing Haden’s outlook on race relations, and explained that “Charlie helped me understand the role of jazz in American politics.”

Which isn’t to say that Tuesday night’s event was overly reverent or high-minded. Haden was a gentle soul ever in search of a good laugh. The jokes he shared through the years got retold a few times onstage. (It’s rare to hear a saxophonist telling an audience, as Ravi Coltrane did: “A duck walks into a bar…”) Yet, according to comedian Richard Lewis, who praised Haden as a friend and a cultural force via video, although the bassist’s timing and tone were definitive on the bandstand, when it came to comedy — not so much. “Play jazz in heaven,” Lewis said. “But don’t tell God any jokes.”

Still, Haden’s timing seemed pretty good during one documentary excerpt, while reminiscing about a teenage moment when members of Stan Kenton’s band invited him up to their smoke-filled hotel room.

“Do you want to end up like this?” he recalled being asked.

He paused, smiled. “Well, yeah!”

Putter Smith called Haden a “charming rascal,” whose entreaties were always prefaced with the same greeting, delivered in an amiable whine — “Hey, man.” Haden’s longtime attorney, Fred Ansis, explained that, for him, it always went like this: “Hey, man: Any bread?” Ansis and Jean-Philippe Allard, Haden’s frequent producer and his stalwart advocate within the record industry, laughed about seemingly endless and often overlapping phone calls from an overly attentive Haden. “But this was all part of his laser-like focus,” said Allard, “on quality and elegance.”

Musically, Haden had an uncanny ability to find and hold deeply meditative moments, as did pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba during a riveting solo performance Tuesday night. Haden could summon sincere spiritual heft, as did Henry Butler, who played piano while singing “Deep River” in an operatic baritone. Haden regularly eased into grooves with willing partners, comfortably enough to invite unfettered expression; such was the case when pianist Brad Mehldau and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz played a freewheeling blues, during which Konitz moved seamlessly (and joyously) between playing his horn and wordless singing. Haden could craft convincing moods, as did the members of his Quartet West behind the urgent tone of tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, with bassist Scott Colley taking Haden’s place.

The concert had begun with a spiritual, “Goin’ Home” (which Haden recorded on the second of two duet recordings with pianist Hank Jones), here played by a lone trumpeter, Michael Rodriguez. At its end, Rodriguez was back, standing among the dozen members of the Liberation Music Orchestra. Carla Bley, Haden’s partner in this endeavor since its start, directed mostly from her piano bench, rising only to finesse a segue or an ending with hand motions and body language.

Anywhere, the death of a great musician is cause for gathering, for shared mourning and celebration. This is especially true in New York and New Orleans, where there are always critical masses of masterful jazz players and ready means of ritual. Those who know, know enough to show up: It’s also the impetus for rare and stellar concerts.

On Tuesday, the audience packed into Town Hall reflected Haden’s impact and reach. In one single row sat the following: singer Sheila Jordan, who, like Haden, was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, and who smiled broadly when Konitz, another Jazz Master, scatted over those blues; Lorraine Gordon, who owns the Village Vanguard, the Greenwich Village jazz club that hosted Haden throughout his career, in many bands; Henry Grimes, a bassist who began making his own liberating impact in jazz circles around the same time as Haden; Amy Goodman, whose celebrated news program, “Democracy Now!” featured Haden as an interview guest, delving deeply into the connections between his music and his commitment to social justice; and the woman in the aisle seat who explained that she’d just moved from Thailand to the U.S., and had read somewhere that this might be the best jazz concert in decades.

The Liberation Music Orchestra’s brass players and saxophonists didn’t form a procession, as they would in a New Orleans jazz funeral, nor did they begin with a dirge and then switch to a loose-limbed parade-worthy rhythm. They stood in a semi-circle, starting “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Overcome” in the solemn manner of a brass choir, and then sliding during the middle of each piece into modern-jazz swing. (Trombonist Curtis Fowlkes’ bristling, pleading solo on the former would have fit right in during a New Orleans jazz funeral, though).

This was functional music communicating both beauty and purpose, and meant to outlive the man who set it in motion. (In fact, the Liberation Music Orchestra headed into a Manhattan recording studio on Wednesday to complete its next release.)

Before the orchestra played “We Shall Overcome,” Bley stepped up to the microphone. She didn’t talk about Haden’s music or her shared history with him, which in that moment I regretted. “Charlie loved audiences,” she said. “He appreciated them as much as they appreciated him.” Then she stared for a moment at what probably looked a lot like the community jazz sometimes forgets it has, one that a rare musician like Haden binds together as family.


Gonzalo Rubalcaba Plays “Joao”

Volcan Live in Italia

Volcan – el Manicero @ Umbria Jazz 2014



**The following article mistakingly attributes Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s dedication of his performance at Umbria to Johnny Winter. Although we all lament the passing of the great blues/rock guitarist, it must be clarified that Gonzalo dedicated his performance to Charlie Haden. Charlie was instrumental in Gonzalo’s sucess and was a very dear friend.  

Umbria Jazz Festival 2014

Gonzalo Rubalcaba viene considerato da alcuni critici, e non a torto, uno tra i più grandi pianisti jazz contemporanei viventi. Nella sua carriera ci sono anche 8 nomination ai Grammy, che non sembrano essere davvero poca cosa per un artista. Il suo tratto caratteristico è l’umanità e la forte partecipazione emotiva delle sue esibizioni, sempre frutto di nuovi progetti. Appena terminata la fase decisamente poetica ed intima suonata in trio, ecco aprirsi quella nuova e scoppiettante di Volcan, il nuovo album dedicato ai 4 elementi, terra, aria, vento e fuoco. Per questo nuovo lavoro, la formazione scelta da Rubalcaba è quella del quartetto con protagonisti del calibro di Horacio ”El Negro” Hernandez alla batteria, Jose Armando Gola al basso sei corde e Giovanni Hidalgo alle percussioni.
Senza mai abbandonare le tradizionali sonorità della terra di origine, il pianista cubano mette in scena tutta la capacità compositiva del jazzista di rango, usando il pianoforte ma anche la tastiera elettrica. Impressionante la differenza di tocco rispetto a Hiromi e Camilo. Rubalcaba vola e non da la sensazione di “pestare” i tasti per ottenere un suono deciso e potente, rimanendo comunque incollato alla tastiera in tutti suoi passaggi più complessi. Volcan è un lavoro molto interessante ed ha delle idee compositive che lo rendono del tutto originale, come i vorticosi cambi di passo tra accenni di son cubano e assoli di puro stampo jazzistico. Pur sempre metà e metà, a quanto pare.
L’animo nobile di Rubalcaba trova spazio nel concerto per una dedica a  Johnny Winter** , l’albino del rock scomparso ieri a 70 anni.
Nel complesso il pubblico di Perugia è soddisfatto ed applaude con partecipazione, andando fin sotto il palco, come ancora non ci era capitato di vedere in questa edizione.


Volcan Live at the Umbria Jazz Festival in la Bella Italia… Photos by David Morresi

My Dear Friend Charlie Haden, I love you very much and always will…


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Sólo Dios puede darnos el consuelo y la paz tras esta pérdida irreparable. Paco.

“Sólo Dios puede darnos el consuelo y la paz tras esta pérdida irreparable. Pidamos en oración por el alma de nuestro hermano y que el Señor nos ayude a sobrellevar su partida.”


Volcan al Blue Note di Tokyo – AgoraVox Italia

Volcan al Blue Note di Tokyo













Una pioggia incessante, non a scrosci ma fastidiosa, non riesce in alcun modo a frenare o rallentare la silenziosa vita notturna di Tokyo. Nel lussuoso locale ricavato da un piano interrato, che riprende in più parti il logo della celebre etichetta americana, i tavolini in legno sono tutti lunghi e stretti e riproducono in rilievo ognuno un paio di titoli famosi, per la gioia dei collezionisti, che per un’edizione originale possono arrivare a spendere cifre non impossibili, seppur molto alte.

Due set quotidiani, il primo alle 19, il secondo alle 21 e 30, durante i quali si può bere, cenare e magari ritrovarsi assieme ai colleghi d’ufficio dopo una lunga giornata di lavoro. Le luci e la musica di sottofondo lentamente digradano per lasciar spazio, alle 21 e 35 dell’8 gennaio alla seconda esibizione delsupergruppo ‘Volcan’, il nuovo progetto del pianista e compositore cubano Gonzalo Rubalcaba, che si è spesso esibito al ‘Blue Note’, il cui pubblico dimostra di apprezzare con entusiasmo la musica latina.

Ma lo show si è aperto con un’interessante assolo ad un’arpa diatonica elettrificata di Edmar Castaneda, che ha rivoluzionato lo strumento nello stile, riuscendo a suonare contemporaneamente la melodia, la linea di basso e gli accordi. Colombiano, ha suonato in duo con Charlie Haden, con Chick Corea e, per l’appunto, con Rubalcaba, col quale si sarebbe esibito al Blue Note il 12, a conclusione di quattro doppi set di ‘Volcan’: due al Blue Note (l’8 e il 9) e due al Cotton Club (il 10 e l’11), un locale di Tokyo della stessa catena.

A stretto contatto coi musicisti, il set di Volcan è cresciuto brano dopo brano nell’arco di 70 minuti. Sette i pezzi ascoltati più un inevitabile bis. Rubalcaba alterna come sempre un pianismo delicato, fatto di poche note a creare stacchi e a marcare il tempo di composizioni apparentemente semplici, in realtà dalla complessa esecuzione, ad uno estremamente veloce che si sviluppa, intenso e percussivo, lungo l’intera tastiera, infiammando l’ascoltatore.

Oltre allo strumento acustico ha utilizzato un sintetizzatore Korg che ha riprodotto la sonorità “vintage”del piano elettrico Fender-Rhodes e quelle particolari del Moog. A sostenere e commentare le frasi appena accennate di Rubalcaba, attenta ai suoi rilanci che indicano una variazione ritmica spesso incline al raddoppio, una coppia affiatata: il batterista cubano Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez e il percussionista puertoricano Giovanni Hidalgo.

Il primo, mescolando il Jazz col Rockil Funk e la tradizione cubana, ha creato uno stile di drumming latino, personale, tecnicamente immerso nelle figurazioni basilari dell’isola tropicale. Massima attenzione alla clave, mantenuta con un pedale – generalmente un 2-3 spesso in levare – affidato al piede sinistro che lo alterna o lo asseconda allo Hi-Hat, il doppio piatto che si apre e si chiude. Molti Tom melodicamente intonati, un buon numero di piatti sospesi ed un gusto nello scomporre il ritmo iniziale, che prosegue anche nei solo, ovviamente più intensi e fantasiosi ma che sempre sviluppano una stringata base di partenza.

Definito da molti colleghi, “tocado da la mano de Dios”, “toccato dalla mano di Dio”, Hidalgo si siede nel mezzo di un semicerchio di sei tumbadoras, dalle pelli assai tirate, che variano timbricamente dai suoni acuti a quelli bassi. Spostandosi lateralmente alla sua sinistra, percuote a volte una coppia di timbales, probabilmente per segnalare l’inizio di una particolare struttura figurativa. Per i temi lenti e sentimentali, utilizza invece una coppia di bongos.

Compagni da tempo – qualche anno fa avevano inciso per la ‘Incipit records’ un ottimo lavoro di sola percussione Traveling through time – i due musicisti hanno approfondito l’arte dell’improvvisazione, del dialogo tra pelli, che costituiva l’idea di partenza di quel CD. Nei brani eseguiti, ciò che sorprende è la bravura a mutare il tempo con facilità, passando da un medium a un veloce in estrema rilassatezza, a mantenere la coordinazione dopo numerosi spezzettamenti dovuti a stacchi di cui abbondano brani come quello d’esordio ‘Volcan’.

Tra i pezzi non originali è piaciuta una romantica versione di Corsario, forse un omaggio da parte di Rubalcaba a Joao Bosco, il cantautore e chitarrista brasiliano, col quale aveva partecipato ad un tour nella seconda metà degli anni ’90, passato anche per il teatro Goldoni di Venezia. E ancora ‘Salt peanuts’, il ritmico, scattante brano di Dizzy Gillespie, che nel 1988 volle con sé Hidalgo per un tour in Africa in sestetto e poi nella ‘Dizzy Gillespie United Nations Jazz Orchestra’.

La percussione di Hidalgo è particolare, oltre che per la precisione, per un approccio batteristico – è capace, ad esempio, di sviluppare con espressività la figura del paradiddle- sulle pelli colpite dalle mani nude. In mezzo, a tenere in piedi un discorso spesso sul filo del rasoio tra il piano e le percussioni, l’elegante, preciso bassista cubano Armando Gola. Ha usato un basso fretless a 6 corde, dal suono meno elettrico, più morbido e pastoso rispetto a quello dello strumento normale a 4 corde, ritagliandosi frequenti assolo melodici, che davano modo, soprattutto ai percussionisti, di rifiatare.

Un bel concerto, perfetto per un locale di medio-piccole dimensioni, che consente un contatto immediato, amichevole e stimolante anche per i musicisti. ‘Volcan’ è stato lo scorso inverno per una sola data a Torino, nella stessa formazione, eccetto un diverso batterista rispetto ad Hernandez. È auspicabile un ritorno, magari primaverile-estivo, per una serie di appuntamenti all’aperto, in contesti artistici ed acustici adatti a svelare tutto il bello che questo quartetto ancora nasconde dentro di sé.

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