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Forget politics: Cuban pianist Rubalcaba is Brilliant – By Howard Reich – Chicago Tribune Oct 9. 2005

The control (Rubalcaba) had over the instrument allowed him to do things that seem nearly impossible, rhythmically.’

– Danilo Perez, pianist

‘Paseo’ sums up much of his work

Sixteen years ago,  when  the phenomenal young Cuban pianist tried to perform in the United States, the State Department set off a small media firestorm denying him a visa on the eve of a scheduled concert in New York.  Since then, Rubalcaha has become one of the world’s greatest jazz pianists and – – during a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations in the 1990s- moved to the US .But, lately, history has been repeating itself, with Cuban, musicians finding it nearly impossible to obtain visas to perform in the States. leaving Rubalcaba dismayeed at the seemingly endless political battle between a superpower and an island nation, and its toll on both cultures. “It’s really sad and very horrible,” says Rubalcaba, who plays Chicago’s Auditorium theatre Saturday, speaking from his home outside Miami.

Cuba, U.S. at odds…

“Sometimes you can see the Cuban determination to do something positive, and then  the American response is a disaster. Then you see an American administration with a good position to help the situation, and then Cuba comes back with something wrong. It’s like a never ending struggle.  Perhaps no jazz musician has been more visibly positioned at the center of the contest than Rubalcaba, who– by dint of his outsize talent, has inspired intense reactions from both sides of the American-Cuban divide. When he played his belated U.S. debut, at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in 1993, he attracted a capacity audience and extravagant critical praise. When he played Miami, three years later, more than 200 protestors demonstrated , some spitting on concertgoers, objeing to what they claimed was the pianist’s close relationship with fidal Castro’s government (Rubalcaba had neither neither condemned Cuban authorities nor renounced his Cuban citizenship). Worse, Rubalcaba faced harsh criticism from prominent Cuban musicians who had defected. “He is letting them(the Cuban Government) use him, the Gonzalo Rubalcaba & New Cuban Quartet (Blue Note).  For a  while some observers have been bickering over Rubalcaba’s delicate position on the tightrope of American-Cuban politics, he gradually has transformed himself as an artist, as “Paseo” shows. Listen to the powerhouse pianist who erupts on “Live in Havana” (recorded in 1986 but recently reissued in more complete form on Pimienta Records), and it’s clear that a keyboard giant was emerging. “The control he had over the instrument allowed him to do things that seem nearly impossible, rhythmically,” says Dani- 10 Perez, the fonnidable Panamanian pianist. “He was also able to bring out a lot of the subtleties of Cuban music into his jazz playing in a very original way,” But if Rubalcaba once sounded as if he possessed four hands, his playing has become considerably more refined on “Paseo,” the pianist effectively distilling his work to say more, with fewer notes. Listen to the sleek pianism and exquisite instrumental dialogues between Rubalcaba and his sidemen throughout “Paseo,” and it’s clear how far he has come. “When I started out, people were hearing a very young guy with a lot of stuff to say, with a lot of fantasies, with a lot of dreams, but not with enough experience” Rubaicaba says. “What you need is time, to make the discrimination of how to say things. I cannot exactly say that I play less now, but I can say that I am more conscious what I am playing, and that probably will make the results different. ” Moreover, with “Paseo” Rubalcaba in effect sums up a great deal of his musical experience, from the distinctly Cuban folkloric elements of the opening track, “El Guerrillero,” to the classically tinged elements of “Preludio En Conga #1”: from the high lyricism of the aptly titled “Sea Change” to the rhythmically volatile, utterly contemporary jazz feel of”Meanwhile.·’ Rubalcaba considers this music a sign of his maturation – a measure of what he has been through politically, of his role as husband and parent, of his natural evolution as an artist. Yet it’s also a kind of summation of an already remarkable life in music. Born 42 years in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood of Havana into a distinguished musical family, he was blessed to have as a grandfather Jacobo Rubalcaba. who wrote some of the most admired danzones of Cuban ballroom culture, while his father, Guillermo, played piano in the orchestra of the innovator Enrique Jorrin. In effect, Rubalcaba practically breathed music since his infancy, eventually studying classical repertoire in Havana’s famed Amadeo Roldan Conservatory and spending his off-hours marveling at the piano wizardry of the American jazz pianist Art Tatum and other bebop pioneers, such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. By age 20, Rubalcaba was touring the world with the celebrated Cuban band Orquestra Aragon. After Gillespie first encountered him, in Havana in 1985, he anointed Rubalcaba “the greatest pianist I’ve heard in the last 10 years” and began agitating for Rubalcaba engagements in the U.S. A year later, the revered American bassist-bandleader Charlie Haden also laid ears on Rubalcaba for the fIrst time, during a Havana jazz festival. “I fell on the floor and asked, ‘Who is that guy. his solo was so unbelievable,” Haden once recalled “He was 23 at the time, I, but it was like hearing a combination of Art Tatum, Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans.” Still; the pianist repeatedly was turned down by the State Department when attempting to play for an American public increasingly eager to hear him. But music of this caliber never could be kept out of the U.S. by mere politics, Rubalcaba’s recordings surfacing here through licensing agreements with European countries that finessed the American embargo on Cuba. So by the time Rubalcaba made the aforementioned U.S. debut at Lincoln Center, American listeners were poised to expect greatness and were not disappointed Since then, Rubalcaba has played with far-flung players such as the genre-crossing Haden, the adventurous tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, the Brazilian melodist Ivan Lins and a variety of classical ensembles. That breadth of experience radiates throughout “Paseo,” no two tracks conforming to any particular style or genre. As for Rubalcaba’S political status these days, he puts it this way: “If you want to know about my immigration, I have an American passport,” he says.  “If you want to know about my soul, I’m Cuban.”

JAZZiT Magazine Jan/Feb 2005 Intervista a Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Intervista a Gonzalo Rubalcaba di Vincenzo Martorella – Foto di Stefano Sapora

Atre anni da “Supernova”, esce l’atteso nuovo lavoro del prodigioso pianista cubano. Un disco complesso etrascinante, denso earticolato. Un’opera totale, ma anche un omaggio ai ritmi della sua terra. Lo abbiamo intervistato.

?) Supernova è uscito nel 2001. Dopo tre anni pubblichi un nuovo disco, ·Paseo·. Cosa hai fatto In questi tre anni?

!) Ho lavorato’ e l’ho fatto in diversi contesti. Ho suonatu con Joao Bosco. con il quale ho avuto concerti in Europa, Brasile, America e Canada. Allo stesso tempo ho suonato spesso in piano. Poi ho aiutato Charlie Haden nella realizzazione di ‘Land Of The Sun’. Ho suonato con lui in giro per il mondo. E devo ammettere che sentivo la necessità di realizzare un nuovo album. Sono convinto che si debba incidere un nuovo disco solamente quando i musicisti con cui suoni sono entrati in confidenza con il nuovo immaginario musicale. Quindi, è molto importante andare in tour, suonare il più possibile e crescere musicalmente concerto dopo conceroto. “Supernova” è stato un album fortunato, che abbiamo avuto l’opportunità di presentare in giro per il mondo. Allo stesso tempo, il precedente album con Haden richiedeva che io suonassi in giro per il mondo con il suo gruppo, così mi è capitato di essere in tour con band diverse contemporaneamente: in trio, con Haden e in piano solo. Poi, finalmente, ho trovato il momento giusto per incidere il nuovo disco. E devo riconoscereche mi sono sentito un po’ sotto pressione perché erano passati tre anni dall’ultimo cd e tuttele etichette discografiche, in linea di massima, pretendono un disco ogni anno. Ma vedendo la cosa da una prospettiva diversa posso dire che questo èstato un fatto positivo perché aver trascorso questo tempo lavorando, confrontandosi con musicisti diversi ti dà l’opportunità di crescere, come strumentista e come compositore: diventi più maturo, più consapevole, e dunque più preparato per il passo successivo. Questo è il motivo fondamentale per cui c’è voluto tutto questo tempo.

?) Piano elettrico, sintetizzatori, basso elettrico. ·Paseo· segna una svolta elettrica nella tua musica?

!) Direi di no. In realtà, ho usato questi strumenti anche in passato, seppure occasionalmente. Molti musicisti hanno un’idea confusa su come utilizzare l’elettronica. Èvero: ogni volta che si usano le tastiere si corre il rischio di perdere in parte la personalità del suono, delle radici, delle tradizioni, ma tutto dipende da come lo si fa, da come la tecnologia viene applicata alla musica. Usare i sintetizzatori vuoi dire porsi la domanda su dove ecome usarli. Non posso dire che tutto quello che facciamo noi sia corretto: perlomeno, cerchiamo di proporre ~n metodo di utilizzo delle tecnologie, e un metodo per combinarle con le sezioni acustiche (il piano, il sax, la batteria). Siamo alla ricerca di un equilibrio, equesta è, probabilmente, la parte più difficile, cioè trovare il giusto equilibrio senza mai perdere di vista il risultato musicale. Ma io credo molto nella possibilità di trovare nuove sonorità, nuovi modi di espressione, nuovi mezzi per vedere la mia musica. Adesso dobbiamo decidere come portare in tour questo album. ecapire se quella musica possa essere la stessa anche

senza i sintetizzatori o se, invece, in questo modo possa perdere forza ed energia. Fortunatamente nella musica ci sono molti elementi che vanno al di là del suono: la forma, l’idioma di un pezzo, il modo personale di espressione di ciascun musicista. Quindi, la musica può essere suonata con qualunque tipo di strumento, con una big band, un trio, con i synth, senza i synth. Bisogna anche rapportarsi al pubblico più giovane che ha molta familiarità con i sintetizzatori, enon solo per far vedere che anche noi li usiamo, ma per mostrare loro come li usiamo, con quale personalità.

?) I  musicisti che suonano con te sono formidabili. Ma se Ignacio Berroa è una vecchia conoscenza, dove hai pescato Armando Gola?

i) Èun musicista cubano, così come cubani sono tutti i musicisti, compreso me. Ignacio vive negli Usa da 24 anni. Armando viveva in Colombia, prima di trasferirsi anche lui negli States, dove ha vissuto tra Miami e New York. È buffo perché ricevetti un cd con alcuni suoi demo, quando ancora non lo conoscevo. Chiesi un appuntamento per incontrarlo personalmente e lui mi disse che aveva visto alcuni miei concerti a Cuba ein Colombia (dove, negli anni ’90, suonavo almeno una volta all’anno). Rimasi impressionato dal suo modo di suonare, e iniziammo a provare insieme. Felipe, invece, ha vissuto in Brasile per quattro o cinque anni; lì ha esplorato tutti i percorsi della musica brasiliana, poi si è spostato negli Usa, dove ha suonato per qualche tempo nella band di Arturo Sandoval. Con loro ho, finalmente, per la prima volta, avuto la fortuna di avere musicisti nella stessa città, New York. Quando, ad esempio, mi trasferii nella Repubblica Dominicana, il resto della band viveva aCuba. Qualche anno dopo, il batterista Julio Barreto si trasferii in Svizzera. Anche quando andai negli Usa èstato difficile trovarsi nella stessa città con gli altri musicisti. Adesso ho una band con cui posso spendere tutto il tempo che voglio aprovare eregistrare. Credo molto nell’importanza del gruppo, nel conoscersi, nel confrontarsi. Nel condividere le proprie idee. E riuscire a fare questo, quando si vive in città distanti, e non si ha mai la possibilità di vedersi e suonare insieme, diventa difficile.

?) Da un punto di vista ritmico, questo è forse il tuo album più complesso. L’articolazione ritmica, per te, riveste un valore particolare?

!) Dico sempre che ritmo, armonia, articolazio-· ne delle forme, struttura dovrebbero essere il tuo modo di pensare come musicista, e come essere umano. Non dobbiamo cercare di fare di più di quello che possiamo, ma dobbiamo fare musica nel modo in cui sappiamo farlo. E il risultato èla musica di questo disco. Dal punto di vista ritmico Cuba èun paese molto ricco, e c’è molto più ritmo di quanto non si sappia. È un paese con musiche molto diverse, alcune delle quali non sono affatto conosci ute. Quando ero piccolo ho avuto la possibilità di entrare in contatto con queste espressioni: folklore, musiche religiose eda ballo. Equesto per varie ragioni: innanzitutto perché vengo da una famiglia di musicisti, equesta èstata una palestra per me fondamentale; secondo, perché ho studiato musica classica; terzo, perché fin da giovanissimo sono entrato in contatto col mondo del jazz. Quindi, la mia musica èuna combinazione di molti elementi diversi. Direi quasi uno spazio in cui mettere tutte queste influenze che ci sono nella mia testa, in una maniera organica. Può essere difficile quando leggi le partiture la prima volta. Ma, in fondo, tutto quello che facciamo èstudiare le nostre tradizioni, basarci sulle informazioni che abbiamo, e riorganizzare il tutto in spazi diversi, accordi diversi, sonorità diverse, forme diverse. Una sorta di espansione, di estensione del mondo al quale apparteniamo. Larticolazione ritmica, allora, rappresenta esattamente una nostra peculiare caratteristica, come il modo di parlare odi camminare. Ciò che mi interessa è la fluidità, il flusso ritmico, ela nostra abilità nel conversare, suonando, condividendo questi flussi ritmici.

?) Aproposito di ritmi, come mai, in ·Paseo·, hai suonato le percussioni?

i) Sono stato costretto afarlo! Ame piace suonare le percussioni, ma questa volta sono stato davvero costretto afarlo. Avevo in mente di chiamare Giovanni Hidalgo, ma per motivi extra-musicali,non siamo riusciti aincontrarci per provare il materiale. Alla fine avevamo pochissimo tempo adisposizione per completare l’album e alloraomi sono preso la responsabilità di suonare le percussioni.

?) La tua tecnica strumentale è trascendentale. Eppure, uno dei momenti più belli del disco è il tuo accompagnamento al solo di soprano in El Guerrillero. Con pochissime note, emeravigliosi spostamenti di accento, riesci, almeno cosi mi pare, a trasmettere l’essenza stessa del ritmo cubano…

!) Non èniente di predeterminato, niente di prestabilito. Credo che lo stesso brano possa assumere un significato diverso ogni sera. Magari suoniamo ogni volta la stessa musica, ma le emozioni che quella musica ti ha fatto provare ieri non sono le stesse che provi oggi perché sei tu a reagire diversamente. Ho sempre pensato che i concerti non debbano essere visti semplicemente come musicisti che suonano i loro strumenti: i concerti sono molto di più. Un concerto è: i musicisti, gli strumenti, l’ambiente, il pubblico, l’acustica; tutto questo insieme di elementi condiziona il comportamento dei musicisti, la loro attitudine mentale in quel contesto. Per me, l’abilità di un buon musicista sta nel mettere insieme diverse capacità espressive, nell’avere i mezzi per suonare ciò che èappropriato in ogni momento. È questo il motivo per cui, per me, ècosì importante essere preparato tecn icamente: questo è l’unico modo di essere libero. Libero di fare tutto quello che vuoi, compreso quelle poche note alle quali ti riferivi con un buon sound euna buona intenzione, ofraseggiare in modo aggressivo, o in qualunque altro modo. Devi esercitarti molto, e ad alti livelli, se vuoi essere in grado di portare la musica dove vuoi tu. Ma non c’è nessun piano, nulla di prestabilito, non faccio questo per confondere l’ascoltatore, come qualcuno potrebbe pensare.

?) Quando ascolto la tua musica non posso  fare a meno di  pensare a Manuel Saumell, Ignacio Cervantes, Ernesto Lecuona, all’americano Louis Moreau Gottschalk, e ai compositori cubani contemporanei (Roldàn, Caturla)…

!) E, infatti, sono molto legato alla loro musica. Mi sono avvicinato aloro fin da bambino, perché ascuola ti fanno studiare le loro composizioni. Oggi, poi, mi sento ancora più vicino a questi musicisti, così come a Roldàn, Caturla, Leo Brouwer, veri e propri punti di riferimento. Purtroppo, non tutti comprendono l’importanza che questi grandi compositori hanno avuto nel ventesimo secolo, soprattutto negli anni Venti eTrenta, e io cerco di studiare e comprendere il loro punto di vista. Perché erano musicisti attentissimi atutto quello che succedeva nel mondo intorno a loro, in termini di tendenze e influenze musicali, ma, nello stesso tempo, non persero mai le loro radici, e lavorarono sempre nel più puro spirito delle radici cubane. Fecero molte esperienze all’estero, ma la loro estetica fu quella di creare uno spazio sonoro nel quale far convergere la tradizione cubana eciò che succedeva al di fuori di esse. Questa èuna filosofia musicale, ed èla filosofia nella quale credo. Anch’io cerco di fare la stessa cosa. Avolte ricevo delle critiche, negli Usa, proprio perché la gente non riesce a comprendere cosa c’è dietro la mia musica. Per un trentennio, dal ’62 in poi, tra Usa e Cuba non c’è stata alcuna comunicazione. Ora, invece, molti americani, e anche molti europei, stanno scoprendo la tradizione musicale cubana. grazie anche a un fenomeno come il Buena Vista Social Club, e mi fa piacere perché è un bene che i musicisti di quella generazione abbiano la possibilità di andare in giro per il mondo a suonare quella musica, così importante per Cuba. Le cose stanno cambiando, ma il mio compito, come musicista, resta quello di continuare, a livello filosofico, la strada indicata dai grandi maestri. Come dire, to bring the music at the right moment. ..


Keyboard Magazine May 2008 Interview by Jon Regen

Gonzalo Rubalcaba jumps continents – and centuries – with his groundbreaking take on Latin jazz.

by Jon Regen

Since bursting onto the jazz scene with his explosive Blue Note debut in 1990, Gonzalo Rubalcaba has carved out a singular niche in the musical landscape. In Rubalcaba’s world, jazz standards embrace electronic textures, Cuban rhythms collide with classical articulations – in other words, music is ever expanding and all-inclusive. Rubalcaba’s new album Avata.r is another genre bending tour de force that demonstrates how his unique trifecta of technique, insight, and daring has propelled him to the forefront of modern improvised music. From the sly, conversational “Looking In Retrospective,” where stark piano lines meet drum ‘n’ bass grooves, to the hip-hop infused “This Is It,” Rubalcaba displays both a keen sense of history and a renegade’s sense of exploration. Where yesterday collides with tomorrow, that’s where you’ll find Rubalcaba. At least for now – who knows where he’ll be off to next. I first heard the 44-year-old Cuban-born pianist at the Istanbul Jazz Festival in 2005, where he was anchoring Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Having heard his first few technically astounding Blue Note recordings, I was

at once struck by the lyrical quality of his playing. Rubalcaba seemed to be saying as much with the notes he didn’t play, as with those he did. For a musician who made a name for himself with a fearless technique and a complete command of the piano, the newly-found elegance and restraint in his playing was an unexpected surprise. Recently, 1caught Rubalcaba at New York’s famed Village Vanguard for a blistering set that showcased music from the new album, and the determined musical vision behind it. During a break from his sold-out engagement, Rubalcaba sat down with me in midtown Manhattan to talk about the making ofAva.tar and his constant quest for musical excellence. I read that Avatar was originally supposed to be a trio record. How did that concept evolve into the modernsounding quintet we hear on the

recording? The original idea was to make a trio record. I tried to put together some music for the album, but it didn’t sound to me like it should be for a trio. I thought I needed one or two more elements in this group. There was something I wanted to do for a long time – to extend lines, melodies and harmonies, not only with the piano and the rhythm section, but with different colors and possibilities. I had knowledge of people like saxophonist Yosvany Terry and some other guys who were here in the States composing great music. I wanted to share with them in this spirit. Finally, I thought it was the right time to change the format and to change the members of the band – I had been working almost ten years with the same group, and I loved what they did. But I had that need to go in a different direction. One of the things that made the difference on this record was not only that it was a quintet, but that it was a record that I put fewer original compositions on. This was a band where I wanted to give everybody the opportunity to collaborate. Not only to use them as sidemen, but to put them to work in terms of the conception of the group. And we did it. There are three compositions by Yosvany and one by bassist Matt Brewerm and I’m happy about what they brought to the band. At the end I feel that it represents my record. When I put the new record on, the first thing I was reminded of from the opening on “Looking In Retrospective” was Keith Jarrett. Was he an influence on you? I think so. People in Cuba in the ’60s and 70s were more into Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, and McCoy Tyner. Few people were interested in what Keith was doing at that time. The big explosion about Keith came with his vision on how to play standards. [ had a connection with Keith since the first time I heard his [1976 album] The Survivor’s Suite. But at the same time, musicians in Cuba felt connected with Keith because we have a very strong classical training. The way he approaches the piano – technically and emotionally, it is very in the tradition of the classical school. Plus, he has great knowledge of the jazz tradition and roots. His playing is clean and clear – the articulation and dynamics, the construction of the phrases. For us in Cuba, where there was an obligation to do the classical school, Keith became a very representative image of what we had in front of us as students. That tune that opens the record, “Looking In Retrospective,” is a Yosvany tune, and I’m sure that he was influenced by Keith in his life. Avatar seems to transcend the Latin genre. It sounds like people making music in the most honest sense of the word – expressing today, expressing now. Not expressing preconceptions of what that music is “supposed” to be. I think that’s a good point. To me, Latin music is not exactly what people believe it is. I say that the most well known and promoted part of Latin music is probably the part connected with the dance, the music that the people use in Cuba and different countries around Latin America to dance and to party. I have nothing against that because I come from a family totally related to that history and that tradition. That tradition was my first reference musically, so the first thing I played, actually – not as a piano player but as a percussionist because I played drums and congas first – was Afro-Cuban music. The son, danz6n, chacha-cha, boleros. And after that I came to school and got a classical education, and then [ listened to jazz records. But the first thing was the Cuban stuff. If we go back to the end ofthe 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, we can see that a lot of composers were using all these Cuban elements, but putting them in a different organization. Guys like Alejandro Garcia Caturla, [whose “Prellldio Carta No.2 for Piano Tu Amor Em Flaso” appean on Avatar -Ed.], Amadeo Roldan, among others, were very connected with what composers like Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Paul Hindemith, and others from the modern school were doing. But they never ignored their roots. What they did was try to actualize their reality at that moment, and put that reality on a stage beyond the Cuban reality. That’s why we saw Cuban composers sharing the stage with successful European composers in the most successful theaters around the world in the ’20s and ’30s. This is the image I have of how to work with Cuban and Latin music. The good thing about the new generation of American musicians is that they are approaching the music without any resistance. They want to learn everything possible. Not only about jazz, or blues, or American tradition, but about everything else that can make them better musicians. And that makes the mission easier, because when you sit down to rehearse and say, “Okay, this is what I have, and here are the references, and I want to go in this direction,” you don’t see any confusion. They understand what you are talking about. And when you see what they have on their iPods – it could be hip-hop or classical to Ellington, Bud Powell, Greg asby, Elvin Jones, or Cuban music. They know about everything. And I think this is what made this record happen the way it did.

Isn’t that really the essence of jazz – blurring musical boundaries? You do chart new sonic ground on this record.

For many of us in this generation, we don’t come to the studio or the stage thinking about how to do jazz. Or thinking about how to do this or that. We come to do music. There are always influences. You can hear the jazz or the Cuban elements. But in the end, the target is to make music. And I think that happened with people like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. They had the same need, because they didn’t want to see themselves as local musicians, but as part of the world. And they wanted to see their music influence not only jazz musicians, but the music of the whole world. And they made it, because if you read comments coming from Stravinsky and Hindemith, they talk about when they came to the United States, how big the influence was of those jazz musicians, and how that experience shaped them to work with those folks at some point in their lives.

There’s something very interesting in your playing on this record – and you don’t hear this from many pianists. When you’re playing lines, you often repeat the same note in a phrase. Where did ou pick up on this from?

Well, you hear this a lot in singers.  And many people don’t notice it. You’ll hear melodies and singers repeat a note constantly. [Huns a melodic phrase where the melody repeats.] And they are repeating notes, but in a very musical way so you don’t notice it. But there are some examples, for instance, McCoy Tyner. He would repeat notes three or four times inside a phrase. And it’s a very smart idea, because not only does the note becomes a platform to a new idea, but the note also takes a new connotation if you change the harmony block in your left hand. John Coltrane used to do this a lot. You wrote a tune on the new album, entitled, “Infantil,” dedicated to John McLaughlin. Can you talk about the influence of innovators like him on you and your music? I think that was an important moment – not only John, but Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, and Wayne Shorter from Weather Report, Emerson, Lake & Palmer – that spectrum of people demonstrating how you could be serious, professional, and creative, and at the same time apply technology. They opened the road for many people at that time, and they got a lot of criticism, but they kept on going. Most important to me, besides the music, was the attitude. They kept themselves young. It seems to me that jazz pianists who have practiced a lot of classical technique come upon a sense of discovery and playfulness when they learn to improvise, maybe because some barriers disappear. How have your classical foundations affected your current work? I think it’s about how conscious you are in terms of how professional you have to be when you go to the stage. Even if your function on the stage is to play one note, you have find the way to bring that note out successfully. You have to hit that note at the right time, with the right feeling, with the right quality of sound. So it’s not about music – it’s about finding myself. But not to find the best side of myself, but to find the problems I have. Because some people go to their instruments to repeat and to enjoy what they know already. And they spend three, four, five hours at their instrument, repeating that, enjoying themselves. They are in love with themselves. And I think you have to respect yourself enough every day so that you can avoid that. So that you can afford to do different things, and face your problems and frustrations, and see that you are not perfect. What I can do to better understand music, whether it’s blues or jazz or pop, or danzon, is to listen. But not only to listen to the music that makes me happy, but to listen to the music that at some point I heard and I didn’t understand. So let me revisit that music – and see if that reaction was part of ignorance. Let me see if now I am able to understand it. Where do you think you got this sense of patience? Did it come from members of your family who taught you this kind of discipline? Discipline comes from two different places. School, and home – your family, the people behind you. I think this is really important. When you have parents and people around you that push you and force you because there is a time when you are younger and you’re unclear as to how to do things in life. You need to be forced sometimes. And they show you the idea of waking up every day, going to the instrument, working at the instrument, and spending time in order to get results. You have to find systems in order to maximize your time. You have a responsibility to pay back the people who stand behind you and have believed in you. But the most important thing is love, the need you have to express yourself through the music. To me, the music helps me to be a better person. I’m making music not only because it is a need. The music helps me see the world around me in the clearest way. To make music as a profession is not only to sit down at a piano and play, but we have to deal with many things that have nothing to do with music. Pressures, business around you, and some people don’t have the capacity to deal with it all, and they give up. Mental strength is what makes the difference, to be able to split your time – to say this is the time for business, and this is the time for the music. Are there some pianistic or musical influences that people might be surprised about”? I think you are always hearing things. Even ifyou don’t like an entire performance, there’s always a moment when you’ll say “that moment was important.” You seem like you’re able to focus on the good in many things. If people would take that attitude in life, life would be better. As musicians, we have the ability to criticize everybody. But what is hard for musicians is to talk not about the good things about you, but about the good things about other people. It’s easy to say, “I don’t like this. This guy’s not playing. This generation’s not doing good. The people of my generation were better,” but I think everybody is doing their best. At the end, you can see that people follow you, and they pack the club to come see you, and maybe they aren’t following other guys, but it doesn’t represent quality. There are a lot of elements in that game that are not about quality all the time. I’m clear about that. You can have a great moment, and sometimes you don’t even understand why. And I don’t care very much for great moments, in terms of popularity. Because I think this is something you have no control about. It depends on many factors. You probably get more popularity at the moment where you think you are not doing your best work. There are different factors that make you become popular. What’s coming up for you this year? I’m writing new music for the quintet, and this time I hope to increase the electronic elements on the next record. I’m also working on an opera that is scheduled to be released in 2011. There are two composers involved – Anthony Davis, and myself. And in April, I’m recording with [French accordionist] Richard Galliano, in a quartet that features drummer Manu Katche and bassist Charlie Haden. When I heard you in Istanbul a few years back, I was struck by what seemed like a big change and a new sense of lyricism in your playing. You have always had an amazing sense of facility, but all of a sudden there seemed to be a sense of space and sweetness – a whole new direction had opened up. I always say that people can’t change things at the exact moment they want to. You need to know what you want to change before you can change it. I’m not always happy with what is happening in the moment, But I’m happy that at that moment, I have the idea how to do things better tomorrow. That means that I’m still able to see different ways to go. There’s a possibility to go somewhere – and sometimes you’re wrong, but at least that attitude, that you’re alert and open and hungry, helps you begin transforming things. You’re always searching.

Exactly. That’s the most important thing.

Los conciertos de Mastrito: Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet: El jazz es un gran invento 11/19/10

Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet: El jazz es un gran invento

Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet, 12-11-2010,

Auditorio Maestro Padilla (Almería)

Lo del pasado viernes si que fue jazz con mayúsculas, del bueno, música total, la demostración fehaciente de que esta es la música del siglo XX, del XXI y del futuro. Llegaba la 2a jornada del XXI Festival Internacional de jazz de Almería, y realmente acudí a nuestro auditorio con ganas.

Entiéndaseme: normalmente siempre tengo un hambre incontrolable por escuchar música en directo, pero..siempre hay días en los que uno esta mas predispuesto. Durante la tarde vi en mi DVD una grabación del pasado verano en el festival de jazz de Vitoria – al que este año no pude acudir en directo – del quinteto que iba a escuchar por la noche, y realmente me ayudó a prepararme para lo que se me venía encima. Pero ya se sabe que, tal y como la realidad supera la ficción, el riguroso directo supera con creces a las televisiones y los DVD ́s.

La cuestión es que cuando me senté en la primera fila del Maestro Padilla, con mi mujer a un lado y dos buenos amigos y, a la sazón, de los mejores músicos de Almería, Chipo Martínez y Antonio Gomez, creo que estaba totalmente receptivo a escuchar buen jazz, y posiblemente por eso disfruté del concierto como hacia mucho tiempo que no lo conseguía.

El quinteto de Gonzalo Rubalcaba venía a proponernos un recorrido en directo por el último disco de este gran pianista titulado “Avatar“. Tal y como el comentó durante una de sus intervenciones, nada que ver con la famosa película del mismo título, y de hecho este disco se editó un año antes del “boom” del film de James Cameron, y desde luego no tiene ninguna relación con el. Casualidades de la vida.

A lo que vamos, que es la música que allí sonó, reconozco que me va a costar bastante explicarlo. Lo que si querría dejar claro es que la complejidad técnica en todos los aspectos musicales no restaba un ápice a la emoción que lograron transmitir todos los músicos desde el escenario.

El repertorio estuvo compuesto de temas propios y, si no me equivoco, todos ellos incluidos en el citado trabajo “Avatar”.

Comenzaron con “Looking in retrospective“, primero también del disco, con una bellisima intro de piano de Gonzalo y en el que tras la exposición del tema comienza una trepidante conversación entre piano, saxo y trompeta. Ya en ese momento nos dejaron claro que el jazz que íbamos a escuchar esa noche era oro puro.

Escuchamos la composición del contrabajista Matt Brewer titulada “Aspiring to normalcy“, temas como “Infantil (Dedicated to John McLaughlin“, también con una introducción de piano con mucho sabor a música contemporánea, “This is it” y “Hip side” y la balada de

Horace Silver “Peace“, ejecutada en trio, y que consiguió crear una tensión que nos dejó a mas de uno sin respiración.

Me resulta muy complicado definir con palabras la forma de tocar de Gonzalo Rubalcaba, porque es una especie de compendio de muchos pianistas, con mucha técnica pero sabiamente mezclada con sensibilidad. De sus dedos salen frases que recuerdan a los grandes del jazz , desde a Art Tatum a Bud Powell, pero que pueden transformarse con una fluidez pasmosa en sonidos extraídos de cualquier composición de Bela Bartok. Cuando quiere sonar a Monk, lo hace. Si quiere hacer guiños a Chick Corea, los hace. Cuando quiere ser lírico, profundo y reflexivo puede sonar a Bill Evans. Pero cuando quiere sonar a Rubalcaba, también lo consigue y se lanza a explorar el piano en toda su profundidad, consiguendo sonidos, frases y “voincings” realmente originales. Su mano izquierda es firme y rítmica, supongo que derivada de sus conocimientos de percusión – mi buen amigo Luis Barberia me contó esa misma tarde que realmente Rubalcaba comenzó como baterista y percusionista, allá en su cuba natal – y su mano derecha literalmente vuela acariciando las teclas. Algunas de sus improvisaciones fueron realmente apabullantes por su delicadeza.

La banda que lo acompaña – por decir algo, porque la palabra “acompañar” se queda pequeña en estas ocasiones – tenia un nivel musical acorde con su líder, como era de esperar.

Especialmente me gustó el sonido, la musicalidad y la solvencia rítmica del contrabajista – compositor ademas de alguno de los temas – Matt Brewer – , y que luego supe que estuvo tocando el contrabajo del músico almeriense Fafi Molina, que salía del concierto con la satisfacción de haber escuchado salir de sus cuerdas tantas y tan acertadas notas.

Los dos vientos, el saxofonista Yosvany Terry y el trompetista Mike Rodríguez también acertadisimos en sus respectivos instrumentos. Yosvany, que aportaba algunas piezas compuestas por él, también demostró una enorme sensibilidad y sus solos estaban realmente bien construidos. Y Mike sacó un sonido verdaderamente hermoso de su trompeta, instrumento que ya de

por sí tiene la caracteristica de unir muy bien lo latino con lo mas puramente jazzistico. Si quien la toca se apellida Rodriguez, pues posiblemente la fusión es mas evidente. Y , por último, el batería Ernesto Simpson en perfecta comunión con Matt Brewer, supo tejer perfectamente la red en la que constantemente se dejaban caer los solistas. Como mi buen amigo Antonio Gomez comentaba nada mas terminar el concierto pocas veces se escuchan a músicos consiguiendo tocar con ese”groove” a tan bajo volumen, consiguiendo tanta sensibilidad y matices. Lo tristemente habitual cuando se atacan estos ritmos es abusar del volumen, pero con músicos de esta talla esto no parecia ser un problema.

En definitiva, buenas composiciones, endiablados arreglos, ritmos complejos, inspiradisimos solos y perfecta comunión entre los músicos, respetándose entre ellos, elevando los silencios a la categoría de bellas notas. En fin, se me acaban los elogios para un concierto de los que le dan a uno la razón cuando piensa que esto del jazz es uno de los mejores inventos de este ser humano que tantos disgustos nos da habitualmente.

Como final, y tras la ferviente petición del no muy numeroso público – una lástima, pero ya se sabe que esto del jazz sigue siendo minoritario – comopara dejar claro que conoce bien sus derechos y deberes como líder, Gonzalo Rubalcaba dejó en camerinos relajándose a sus cuatro compañeros y salió solo al escenario para regalarnos dos piezas a piano solo que consiguieron lo que parecía imposible: subir todavía mas el listón. La última fue algo así como una de-construcción de “El manisero“. Lo que hacía – y deshacía – Rubalcaba con la melodía y armonía de este famoso standard de su cuba natal solo él lo sabe, pero ciertamente nunca había escuchado una versión tan original de tan conocida melodía. Solo una maestro puede conseguir esto, y estábamos ante uno, y de los grandes.


La espontaneidad de un virtuoso del teclado … Article from: Américas (Spanish Edition) July 1, 1996, Holston, Mark

Article from: Américas (Spanish Edition) July 1, 1996 Holston, Mark

La espontaneidad de un virtuoso del teclado. (pianista cubano Gonzalo Rubalcaba)(TT: the spontaneity of a keyboard virtuoso) (TA: Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba)

La vida en el mundo del jazz puede llevarlo a uno a una nominación para un premio Grammy o a un prestigioso debut en el Lincoln Center. En el camino, si el viajero es un pianista cubano que se llama Gonzalo Rubalcaba, también puede significar un programa cada vez más recargado de presentaciones y apresurados viajes al aeropuerto más cercano para alcanzar vuelos a Tokio, Sáo Paulo, Toronto y otros numerosos destinos cosmopolitas.

Y también una visita al taller de reparación de carrocerías. El hecho de que este virtuoso de treinta y tres años resida en Santo Domingo, la bulliciosa capital de la República Dominicana, le ha significado un tipo de problemas que es improbable que hubiera tenido que enfrentar en La Habana.

“Lo siento, Gonzalo no podrá asistir a la entrevista”, me informó por teléfono José Forteza, el agente del pianista. “Surgió un viaje. Nos vamos al Japón, y camino al consulado tuvo un accidente”.

La cita se cumplió un año después, cuando Rubalcaba, después de tentar la suerte sorteando las caóticas callejuelas de Santo Domingo, llega a la puerta de mi hotel en su nuevo Honda Prelude blanco. Pronto salimos para el barrio colonial pleno de historia para una charla en uno de los cafés al aire libre. Ya sea que ha mejorado sustancialmente su habilidad como conductor o que el tránsito es menos difícil en esta ventosa tarde de junio, Rubalcaba se siente cómodo y en control, al tiempo que relata su vida en esta colorida metrópolis y habla sobre su carrera cada vez más exigente.

Su habilidad en el volante me recuerda las cualidades de su interpretación: súbitos impulsos de energía mientras esquiva a toda velocidad un camión cargado de maderas, pausados interludios mientras atravesamos un campus universitario lleno de impetuosos peatones, una intensa concentración mientras atravesamos las impredecibles vueltas del laberinto de estrechas callejuelas adoquinadas.

Santo Domingo es en la actualidad el hogar del pianista, su esposa María, sus hijos Joao y Joan, de su agente Forteza y de su hermano Luis y sus respectivas familias. La cultura española y africana del país proporciona a los cubanos un entorno atractivo y les facilita las comunicaciones y el transporte que se han convertido en aspectos críticos para satisfacer las exigencias cada vez mayores de su carrera internacional.

El pianista, nacido en La Habana en 1963, es hijo de Guillermo Rubalcaba, conocido pianista cubano que tocaba en la famosa orquesta de Enrique Jorrin. Su abuelo, Jacobo González Rubalcaba, era un destacado compositor de danzones. Con semejante ambiente musical en su hogar, no es de extrañar que el joven Rubalcaba comenzara a estudiar el piano a los nueve años y obtuviera un título en composición musical en el Instituto de Bellas Artes de La Habana. Cuando aún era adolescente inició su carrera grabando y tocando, entre otros, con el trompetista y compositor de bebop Dizzy Gillespie, que se convertiría en uno de los grandes admiradores del pianista cubano.

Sentados en la majestuosa plaza España de Santo Domingo, frente a la ornamentada fachada del palacio de Diego Colón, analizamos su vida en la República Dominicana, sus opiniones acerca del inusitado interés actual en el jazz latino y sus planes para el futuro.

“El barrio colonial de Santo Domingo es el más dinámico, espiritual y arquitectónicamente importante de la ciudad”, comenta mientras observa un panorama que ha cambiado poco desde 1498, cuando Bartolomé Colón, el hermano del descubridor, fundó la que habría de ser la primera ciudad europea del hemisferio occidental y el centro de la cultura española en el Nuevo Mundo. “En la ciudad colonial verdaderamente “se respira esa época”, agrega.

“También me gusta La Romana, porque allí todo fue construido alrededor de las atracciones naturales”, dice, pero a su vez reconoce que sus crecientes obligaciones le han permitido disfrutar muy poco su nueva residencia.

Pero otro lugar de la República Dominicana, poco visitado por los turistas, realmente despierta su admiración. “Santiago de los Caballeros (la segunda ciudad de la república, situada a una hora de Puerto Plata en la región septentrional del país) me llamó la atención porque me recuerda a la ciudad de Santiago en Cuba, sólo que es más pequeña”, dice Rubalcaba. “Los santiagueros son muy hospitalarios. Se preocupan por sus vecinos y la gente que los rodea, algo que en esta época muchas veces falta en las grandes ciudades. Son una gente feliz. Al igual que en Santiago de Cuba, siempre están dispuestos a organizar una fiesta, cualquier día de la semana, ya sea de día o de noche”.

Con sus antecedentes de jazz, música clásica y estilos cubanos, Rubalcaba es una especie de anomalía en la República Dominicana, dominada por el merengue. “Todavía no he grabado merengue porque no me han invitado a hacerlo”, dice con una sonrisa. En realidad, fue invitado a realizar una grabación con Juan Luis Guerra, la más famosa estrella pop del país, y participó en el álbum Bachata Rosa, que ganó un Grammy en 1990.

El hecho de que en 1995 lo alcanzara la fama de una nominación para un Grammy es otra indicación del interés que ha despertado este fascinante maestro cubano. “Definitivamente fue una gran cosa desde el punto de vista promocional”, admite pragmáticamente acerca de su exposición a la fama del Grammy. “Uno es visto por un número inimaginable de personas de todo el mundo. Nunca pensé en la nominación, sino en la interpretación y en la oportunidad de promover mi obra y mi imagen”.

Siempre cuidadoso acerca de la forma en que invierte su tiempo y su energía artística, Rubalcaba se esfuerza por no ser calificado como artista de jazz latino. En efecto, su último álbum exhibe las distintas facetas de su personalidad artística a través de solos, interpretaciones con su cuarteto cubano y con sus frecuentes colaboradores norteamericanos de jazz, el bajista Charlie Haden y el baterista Jack DeJohnette. Imagine: Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the USA, su séptimo álbum para la legendaria marca Blue Note, incluye originales interpretaciones de un ecléctico programa que va desde “Imagine” de John Lennon, a “Woody’n You” de Dizzie Gillespie, el bolero “Perfidia” de Alberto Domínguez y obras originales grabadas en vivo durante una reciente gira por los Estados Unidos.

“No creo que sea prudente clasificar mi carrera sólo como intérprete del jazz latino”, señala diplomáticamente. “En la actualidad, en el movimiento parecen estar surgiendo nuevos talentos que están renovando el lenguaje original del estilo. En realidad, deberíamos pensar en darle un nuevo nombre”. Un poco alienado por lo que percibe como una tendencia a comercializar el estilo, Rubalcaba esboza algunos consejos para quienes pretenden izar el estandarte del jazz latino. “Estamos trabajando con una cultura seria y profunda”, señala. “Todavía hay estilos vírgenes que deben ser tratados como tales y no a través de un enfoque puramente comercial. No me gusta la idea de que todos se metan en el jazz latino, en interpretar la música folclórica al estilo del jazz. Hay que hacerlo de una manera seria”.

Entonces, en la misma forma en que su música puede cambiar dramática y espontáneamente de rumbo, se torna filosófico, subrayando su profunda pasión por la música a la que ha dedicado su vida. “La nueva generación debería pensar más acerca del valor de la música, debería poner la música primero y pensar menos en sí misma”, sostiene. “No quiero que nuestra música sea una cuestión de moda. Aún cuando ello requiera un lento proceso, el producto final debe ser algo permanente, parte de la historia. Para mí, lo importante es avanzar en esa dirección”.

Por el momento, le interesa la idea de producir un álbum clásico. El proyecto puede involucrar dos pianos y una orquesta e incluir algunas composiciones originales que ha preparado. “No es algo nuevo para mí”, dice, reflexionando sobre sus primeros tiempos en el Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán de La Habana. “Así me eduqué. Por diferentes razones, no seguí y practiqué ese estilo: decidí ser un tipo distinto de músico, más popular. Pero ello no quiere decir que sólo voy a tocar jazz”.

Ya sea en la música clásica o el jazz o en algún estilo híbrido de improvisación afrocubana que aún falta definir, es seguro que Rubalcaba permanecerá por muchos años en la vanguardia de los pianistas contemporáneos. “Depende del tipo de transición que atraviese”, dice. “Eso determinará el tipo de música que toque”.

Backstage with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Downbeat, Sept 2002 by Philip Booth

Rubalcaba’s four “Invitation Series” performances at the 23rd edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival amounted to a homecoming of sorts: He made his North American debut at the festival in 1988, with his own Grupo Projecto, and in 1989 he performed with Charlie Haden at the bassist’s own “Invitation” concerts (captured on Haden’s Montreal Tapes albums). Cuba-born Rubalcaba, based in South Florida since 1996, spoke with Down Beat at the historic, ornate Monument National in Montreal, the site of the pianist’s four-night late June festival stand. Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s virtuosity, coupled with a ferocious intensity, has driven his remarkable music career, during which he’s pursued thoughtful, intriguing explorations of the Latin jazz continuum. His albums and live performances draw from bebop, traditional Cuban music and his extensive classical training.

It’s a big challenge. It’s difficult every night to show people different formats and a different musical language. But this has been great, because at the same time you have the opportunity to play with people who maybe you haven’t played with in along time. So it’s a different moment-you see what they’re doing, you can bring your new experience. The result has been fresh. I remember when Joe Lovano and I did Flying Colors in ’97. The last time that we did that music was two-and-a-half years ago, and now we’re here in Montreal with a lot of new things, with a lot of new material, new energy and a new vibe. But that’s beautiful because it’s not only what you can give, it’s also what you can learn from the other guys.


The first day was the Inner Voyage music in trio with Carlos [Henriquez] and Ignacio [Berroa], which was very quiet music in general. Then came Joe Lovano: Playing duet with Joe was another musical dimension. It was more abstract, more avant-garde. We had to think about how to play, how to sound as an ensemble, a big ensemble with just two people using the whole range of the instruments-the piano, saxophones, percussion, Joe was using gongs and drums. Every time that we play together is like [trying to] recompose the piece. Yesterday with Charlie and David [Sanchez], that was the mellow, romantic part of the series. We played part of the Nocturne album. We also tried to play standards that not many people play all the time-“Nefertiti,” “Monk’s Mood,” some of Charlie’s tunes and some boleros from Mexico without drums or percussion. That was the challenge to be there, together, all the time. And tonight is more of a-I don’t know how to call it-Latin or Afro-Cuban ensemble with a lot of jazz chords. Basically, it’s original compositions. Over four days people can see different portraits of me, a different frame every night with different energy and attitude. We’re looking for art, beauty and different themes, structures and harmonies.


Most important to me is Charlie’s attitude. He’s always very open and in total disposition to go somewhere, anywhere, especially with Cuban music or music from South America, Latin America. He’s always listening to musicians from Cuba, Brazil and Argentina. That makes our relationship very easy, because I learn from his culture and he learns with us about our culture. That has been the great bridge.


We are working on it, and thinking about bringing people into the studio like Joe Lovano.


And Dianne Reeves and Cassandra Wilson. We’ll see. I’m still thinking about the concept of the record. We’re supposed to record in September.

—Down Beat, Sept 2002

dwnbeatsept2002int pdf

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