Archive for the ‘Critical Acclaim’ Category



Engaging in a 90-minute conversation with Gonzalo Rubalcaba can be a little overwhelming, something like listening to one of this great pianist’s performances. He begins by mentioning his recent tour of Poland with a singer he knows there, Anna Maria Jopek. This casual reference leads to a discussion of the tangos they performed – yes, Polish tangos, which, he says, are fundamentally similar to Argentinian tangos as well as to the tangos he heard as a boy in Cuba. In fact, Rubalcaba, who is 53, felt so comfortable performing Polish tangos with Jopek – so culturally at home — that he began slipping a danzon composed by his grandfather, Jacobo Rubalcaba, into their shows. And now, as he mentions his grandfather’s legacy, memory guides the pianist toward his own Havana upbringing in the 1960s and ‘70s: his immersion in Cuban folkloric and popular music and the fact that his first instrument was the drum — as well as the fact that his conservatory teachers, most of them from the Soviet Union, regarded the rhythmic music of the streets with disdain. Even so, his compositional training remains profoundly important to him: He currently is “recomposing” a symphonic work that he wrote as a student at the National School of Arts in Havana, in 1983. And now – neatly bringing the conversation full circle — he mentions that his main composition teacher there, the Cuban composer Roberto Valera, was trained in Poland.

Actually, that was just the first 10 minutes of the conversation, which also touched on Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Haden, two of his early jazz mentors. But those few minutes are enough to give a sense of how Rubalcaba’s mind informs his musicianship: the intellect and focus, the marshaling of vast amounts of information, which he decodes to create musical stories told with precision, with an accumulating energy that arrives with a rhythmic jolt, and – increasingly as he gets older – with exquisite touch, with charm and reflection: “The music that we play today should reflect the journey of our lives,” he says.

All of those qualities should be in play next month (May 25-28) at SFJAZZ as Rubalcaba joins two other virtuosos – pianists Chucho Valdes and Michel Camilo – in a tribute to the pianist and composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963), whose canon is synonymous with Cuba’s pianística tradition. Every Cuban pianist must come to terms with Lecuona, whose music bridged the popular and classical worlds; his renown as a composer in Latin America is often compared to that of George Gershwin in the United States. He penned popular hits: “Malagueña” is instantly recognizable to almost anyone. But he also composed symphonic works and piano suites, matching harmonic subtleties with infectious ostinato bass lines, never losing sight of what Rubalcaba calls the “essence of Cuban music, the black factor, the African roots. In Cuba we found a way to explore and develop all those roots together with the European classical music, and together with the music of other countries, like Mexico, and with America’s jazz culture. This may be the big benefit that Cuban music has – the openness to collaboration, accepting influences from the outside without being afraid of losing what we have. We believe it’s important to be in contact with what is out there.”

For Rubalcaba, Lecuona offers a template for going “out there” in so many ways.

“Lecuona was a complete musician,” he explains. “He used to play his own music, but he was also able to play Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, Chopin, Schumann. He was able to compose for different types of ensembles – chamber music, symphonic music — and he wrote I don’t know how many songs, with lyrics, many of them very famous in his time. And then he also became a businessman, who created this amazing” – he pauses, searching for the right word – “this amazing corporation. He made a huge show with his orchestra and singers and dancers and they were able to tour around the world,” stopping at Carnegie Hall in 1953. “So he worked many directions in his life, and I think he’s a great example of how much you can do in life when you really are focused.”

Rubalcaba could be describing his own work ethic.

In September, he performed a Bartok concerto with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. In the following months, he performed with Chick Corea. He toured Europe with his New York-based quartet, paying tribute to Haden. He recorded with Jopek and is now about to record with the Spanish flamenco singer Esperanza Fernandez, with whom he has an ongoing collaboration. He also is going on the road with Valdes; on April 30, the duo will perform at the International Jazz Day celebrations in Havana, and they, too, plan to make an album. There is much more: Rubalcaba is increasingly drawn to video projects. He has been learning about electronics and ambient sounds from his 27-year-old son Joao, a music producer in Brooklyn.

And somehow Rubalcaba, who lives outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida, finds time to teach at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami – all of this adding up to what for most people would be an exhausting regimen. For many years, he practiced six or seven hours at a stretch, every day. No more: “Now I cannot do that. Maybe my neck hurts. Maybe my hips hurt,” he says, sounding amused. “So now I have to split the six or seven hours in different parts of the day. I spend 2.5 hours, and then I stop and I compose or I do this or that and later I come back to the piano and I do 2.5 more. The point is to learn how to get important results without ignoring the reality of your body and your mental state.”
Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Michel Camilo pay tribute to Ernesto Lecuona, only at SFJAZZ May 25-28.

Certain words keep coming up in the conversation: discipline, responsibility, focus.

“My mother was the first person who really put me on this track,” he says. “She was a sweet person, but at the same time she was a very strict person.” He pauses, then adds, “It was impossible to negotiate with her.”

Yolanda Fonseca, his mother, allowed for normal activities: toys, TV, playing with friends. But in school, as in music, Gonzalo learned not only to put in the time, but to “get the best results. You need a plan, or you’re losing time.” This applied to his health, as well. He was asthmatic as a boy: “I had problems with the blood and with my breath, all kinds of problems and – look, I was always in the hospital, but I never lost a year to school. Again,” he reiterates, “my mother was clear that we had to find a way to get out of those health problems.” (Around age 12, he began running, avidly, along the ocean, which made all the difference). “We cannot ignore what you must continue doing in your life, she told me, and that included school and my preparation and training.”

His father, Guillermo Gonzalez Rubalcaba, was a pianist who played with Enrique Jorrin, the violinist credited with inventing the cha-cha-cha. Gonzalo began piano studies around age eight or nine, but he already was playing drums – and played them in the family band into his teens. His parents’ living room was a musicians’ hangout and rehearsal space where he met many of the period’s eminent figures: vocalist Omara Portuondo, pianist Frank Emilio Flynn and Los Van Van drummer Changuito. The latter blew Rubalcaba’s mind, playing scales on coconuts and inventing rhythmic structures that seemed to arise out of Changuito’s “different mental structure.”

Early on, Rubalcaba internalized the perspective of a drummer: “It’s part of my innards. That is the instrument that took me into the music,” he says.

He also was listening to his father’s Art Tatum and Charlie Parker records. After Cuban folkloric music and European classical studies, American jazz improvisation – Keith Jarrett later became a key influence — added a dimension to his playing that took him “into orbit.” By age 17, he was touring Europe with Orquesta Aragon, the venerable charanga outfit, and felt ready to ditch his schooling. It was his mother who insisted that he return to conservatory to study composition.

It made him a more complete musician.

That’s what Gillespie, Haden and other American jazz musicians recognized in him when they began to visit Cuba in the mid-1980s and discovered Rubalcaba – he was the complete package.

By the time he left Cuba in November 1991 – Fidel Castro’s government allowed him to move to the Dominican Republic, where he stayed five years before moving to Florida – Rubalcaba was a certified phenomenon. When he played “Giant Steps” at a festival in Japan in 1992 – you can watch it on YouTube — the musicians standing at the side of the stage, including Michael Brecker, appeared mystified by his prowess.

Back then, Rubalcaba played with an urgency and confidence that verged on cockiness: “When we are young, sometimes we believe that we know a lot,” he comments.

These days, he tends toward a less bravura posture: “It’s impossible for me to play in the same way that I played 20 or 30 years ago. Even if I wanted to, I cannot repeat that, because this is a different reality, a different moment. I’m the same person, the same essence. But I have more experiences, more stories behind me, and all these things are reflected in my music.”

He has three grown children and a wife, Maria, of 31 years. Time passes and he has come to think of himself as “a transmitter” of music, continuing the work of his grandfather and father, who “preserved the memories and the meaning” of the Cuban music of their eras. He will do the same for his own era, for “there’s a spiritual factor in the practice of the music that we cannot avoid. At the end, what is present there is our spirit. It’s who we are.”

  • Tribute to Ernesto Lecuona w/ Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Michel Camilo coming to SFJAZZ May 25-28. Tap here for more info.

JazzWise Magazine – Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Mark Dresser suitably masterful at Umea’s Swedish summit













– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Melina-Hägglund

…..Among the other big names on the bill the pick of the bunch is the outstanding Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba (pictured top) whose American quartet, bolstered by the presence of New York-based British alto saxophonist Will Vinson is imperious, playing a Charlie Haden tribute that captures the particular quality of soulful, shadowy lament that pervaded much of the music of the late American (and former Rubalcaba collaborator). The pianist’s sound, created both by his articulation and masterful manipulation of pedals, bewitches at times, as does his ornate phrasing and interaction with a fine rhythm section anchored by drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Matt Brewer.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba in Salzburg : Solo Piano Recital – Ein Piano Star zu Gast im Odeion…


Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Solo Piano Recital



Ein Jazz Piano Star zu Gast im Odeion Den zweiten Festivaltag wird Gonzalo Rubalcaba mit einem seiner seltenen Solo Konzerte bestreiten.

Der aus Kuba stammende (* 1963), mittlerweile in den USA lebende Pianist spielt seine Solo-Konzerte sonst eher in großen Konzertsälen wie der N.Y. Carnegie Hall. Rubalcaba, der eine klassische Musikausbildung genossen hat, bezeichnet den Jazz seiner Mentoren Dizzy Gillespie und Charlie Haden sowie die afrokubanische Musiktradition seiner Heimat als seine prägenden musikalischen Einflüsse. Mit seiner bestechenden Virtuosität, seinem ungeheuren rhythmischen, melodischen und harmonischen Einfallsreichtum, seinem nuancenreichen Anschlag und hinreißend singenden Pianissimo zählt Rubalcaba heute zu den Größen des Jazzpianos, in einem Atemzug zu nennen mit Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea und Fred Hersch. Ein Piano Star zu Gast im Odeion… eine kleine Sensation!

“OH Vida” awarded “Vibrant @ 10 Award” by the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami

“OH Vida”  was awarded the “Vibrant @ 10 Award” by the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.  

Photo by Aaron Vazquez and Joao Gonzalez

Photo by Aaron Vazquez and Joao Gonzalez

































In Oh Vida! – Rubalcaba & Fernández payed tribute to legendary Cuban big bandleader Beny Moré, “El Bárbaro del Ritmo.” Moré’s many unforgettable hits include “Que Bueno Baila Usted” and “Como Fué.” At this performance, a zesty flamenco twist was added to his work when Grammy-winning Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Spanish singer Esperanza Fernández  joined forces to present a new take on a set of classic songs.

Las notas más vitales que musicales del profesor Rubalcaba – MIQUEL JURADO Barcelona 6 NOV 2016 – 09:02 CET

El pianista cubano da una sentida clase magistral en el Festival de Jazz de Barcelona


No es habitual que en el escenario se instalen tres estudiantes y, mientras tocan su música, uno de los pianistas más importantes hoy los observe atentamente desde un lateral. Serio, con cara de póquer, ni entusiasmado, ni contrariado. Y que después tome el micro y comente la jugada ante la mirada nerviosa y expectante de los jóvenes artistas. No hay suspensos ni recriminaciones, solo comentarios en positivo, incluso más vitales que musicales. Y si la cosa no ha quedado clara, el mismo artista de campanillas se sienta al piano con ellos para mostrarles que el salto adelante es posible.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba (La Habana, 1963) impartió el jueves en el Conservatorio del Liceo una de las clases magistrales incluidas en el Festival de Jazz de Barcelona y no fue una lectura académica; al contrario. El pianista optó por la forma más participativa: tres tríos de estudiantes le tocaron un tema que más que un examen era un trampolín para que después el cubano se abriera en disquisiciones que tanto servían para la música como para cualquier otra actividad creativa.

Rubalcaba defendía la melodía y el sentimiento, hablaba de sus experiencias personales, se confesaba enamorado de las baladas románticas y enemigo visceral de los bateristas (algo inaudito, ya que horas después compartía escenario con el explosivo Jeff Ballard). “Para componer lo importante no es la técnica sino tener algo que decir”, lanzó. “Es imposible convencer a nadie si uno no está convencido de sí mismo”. Algunos alumnos, como mínimo los que tuvieron la suerte de tocar con él, se fueron a casa convencidos. “Guai”, describía después la experiencia uno de los que pisó el escenario.

El segundo trío interpretó un clásico de Charlie Haden Sandino, oportunidad magnífica para que Rubalcaba hablara de su amigo y mentor al que iba a dedicar el concierto de la noche. “Haden creaba su música en términos humanos, de vivir la vida, de percibir los hechos que le rodeaban. Tenía la genialidad de componer melodías muy sencillas y eso no se estudia, se posee”.

Fueron unas palabras que quedaron claras horas después cuando Rubalcaba regresó al mismo escenario acompañado de su cuarteto (con Ballard a la batería) para ofrecer un concierto sensacional en recuerdo de Haden. Fue una reinterpretación de su espíritu: sonaba a Haden pero era distinto. Rubalcaba, más jazzístico y menos latino que otras ocasiones, doblegó su virtuosismo pianístico evitando superficiales fuegos artificiales y, magníficamente acompañado, dejó que las melodías coparan el protagonismo. La magistral versión de La Pasionaria, volcánica y tempestuosa como el Haden más comprometido, valió por todo un festival.

Bolzano Festival Bozen – Konzerthaus – 04 Agosto 2016- 04 Agosto 2016

Kermesse tra le più attese nel panorama culturale estivo mitteleuropeo, il Bolzano Festival Bozen 2016 si è aperto il 28 luglio con un concerto dell’Orchestra Haydn. Proseguirà fino al 3 settembre, con un calendario quotidiano di eventi dedicati: alle orchestre – Accademia Gustav Mahler, Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchester e European Union Youth Orchestra – all’”Antiqua” e al pianoforte. Bolzano si sa, è città storicamente legata al Busoni, concorso pianistico internazionale (a giorni inizieranno le preselezioni della sessantunesima edizione). Ed è pensando al pianismo contemporaneo – con uno sguardo al jazz! – che è nata la “rassegna nella rassegna”: il Festival Pianistico Ferruccio Busoni. Siamo stati a Bolzano giovedì 4 agosto per la prima serata: Just piano, improvvisazioni in piano solo di Gonzalo Rubalcaba.Pianista classico per formazione, jazzista per scelta, Rubalcaba è un virtuoso della tastiera. La sua padronanza tecnica è strabiliante, il tocco elegante. Mettendosi in gioco liberamente, senza l’interplay del trio (come in molti suoi progetti), le sue performance in solitario sono di altissimo livello e tensione sonora. Impegnative. Solo ascoltandole con molta attenzione si può realmente comprendere l’originalità dell’idea musicale. Idee che Rubalcaba prende dalla classica, dalle radici della sua America cubana e dal jazz per rielaborarle in un linguaggio personalissimo, nuovo (“Son XXI” è tutto questo e musica del nostro tempo), dove il virtuosismo classico o free è terreno sonoro su cui improvvisare – “Giant Steps” di Coltrane, “First Song” di Charlie Haden… – o giocare con ritmi e melodie cubane come in “El Cadete Constitucional”, “El Manisero”… Due ore di intensa emozione e la musica di Rubalcaba conquista il pubblico. Benvenuto jazz al Bolzano Festival Bozen! Herzlich willkommen!

Maddalena Schito

Volcano Review. Gracias!


Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Suite Caminos – Latin Jazz Network – By Raul da Gama – Feb 7, 2016

Suite Caminos (2015)

Suite Caminos (2015)

Latin Jazz Network

Gonzalo Rubalcaba has sojourned all over the topography of music ever since his performing days in Cuba and the rest of the world, and ever since he was discovered by Charlie Haden. He might be said to have blazed brave new trails between Afro-Cuban music and Afro-American. His extraordinary virtuosity as a pianist and his unbridled genius as a musician has been brought forth on a number of recordings from the earliest days to his magnificent album Fé/Faith (5Passion, 2011). Throughout the course of his career the Afro-Cuban idiom has defined his music in overt as well as more subtle ways when he was playing jazz. But on Suite Caminos he delves much deeper into his origins. As a result the music on this album addresses Santeria in a more direct manner.

At first blush it appears that Rubalcaba is less audible on the album. He seems to play less piano, a tad more keyboards than on other albums including on that seminal recording Mi Gran Pasion (Messidor, 2008). But this is more an album about Rubalcaba the composer and that too one exploring the depth of his African rhythmic side. Moreover returning to his African roots Rubalcaba has crafted a work of greater significance than anything he might have done in his entire career. Suite Caminos translates literally as “The Roads Suite” but a slightly metaphorical view of the music tells of the “routes” that Rubalcaba has travelled all his life including that part that involved not so much music as the worship of African deities. So the performance no longer becomes a mere display of gratuitous virtuosity but rather an exploration of the soul of Rubalcaba’s entire existence as an artist.

Chanting is heard throughout the album. Happily, those voices also include Pedrito Martinez on two sequences; more happily Martinez is not the only vocalist on the album. There are others – Philbert Armenteros, Mario Hidalgo, Sonia Feldman – all of whom chant to various deities as soloists and in a heavenly choir as well. Rubalcaba often resorts to the organ to channel his African harmonics through a European church setting rather than in a more secular fashion, on the piano. This is unusual but seems to work seamlessly with the African rhythms belted out by the conventional drum set, by Ernesto Simpson as well as by the battery of percussionists on the album.

But it is the gripping drama and involvement in large-scale works that recall the brilliant musicianship of Rubalcaba and the legacy of his pianism throughout his career. Rubalcaba’s captivating direction and intensity, complete with an almost hypnotic abandon, is a touch more measured in Rubalcaba’s (organist’s) hands but no less effectively communicated. The music is less florid and more ingeniously compressed into lines that poke and jab at the music in the keyboardist’s inimitable style.

Sendero de Espuma and Ronda de Suerte are arguably the most ambitious creations on the album. Truly symphonic in grandeur, the works are harnessed impressively by the exceptionally experienced Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Granite-like blocks of intensely chiseled harmonic progressions from start to finish are studiously laid down, as if for posterity, and yet there’s an underlying immediacy and restlessness in Rubalcaba’s rhetoric which leads to thrillingly choppy waters in the music. I can’t think of anything finer in terms of what Rubalcaba does on this or any of his previous recordings. There is a grandeur, flair and emotional risk here and happily it is on a record that has also been recognized as one of the best in 2015.

Suite Caminos is a 2016 Grammy Nominated Recording
Best Latin Jazz Album category

Track List: Sendero de Aliento; El Hijo Mensajero; Destino Sin Fin; Sendero de Espuma; Santa Meta; Alameda de Vientos; Via Prodigiosa; Ronda de Suerte.

Personnel: Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Piano on all selections except 1, synths on all selections, palmadas and tambor on selection 7; Matt Brewer: Upright bass on all selections except 1; Adam Rogers: Guitars on all selections except 1 and 6; Ernesto Simpson: Drums on all selections except 1; Gary Galimidi: Electric Guitar on selection 5; Will Vinson – Alto Sax on selections 2, 4 and 5 and Soprano Sax on selections 6, 7 and 8; Alex Sipiagin: Trumpet on selections 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8. Flugelhorn on selection 7; Seamus Blake: Tenor Sax on selection 2, 4, 5 and 6; Pedrito Martinez – Lead Vocals on selections 6 and 8, and chorus on all selections. Percussion on all selections and palmadas on 7; Philbert Armenteros: Lead Vocals on selections 2, 3, 7 and 8, and chorus on all selections. Percussion on all selections except 3; Mario Hidalgo: Lead Vocals on selection 1; Sonyalsi “Sonia” Feldman: Lead Vocals and Chorus on selections 4 and 5; Special Guest: John McLaughlin: Electric Guitar on selection 6.

Label: 5Passion
Release date: March 2015
Running time: 1:17:42
Buy music on: CDBaby


Musica Jazz – Intervista – Gonzalo Rubalcaba


Musica Jazz – Marzo 2016 – Intervista Gonzalo Rubalcaba PDF
musica jazz

Downbeat – March 2016 – PDF


DownBeat – Gonzalo Rubalcaba  – PDF
downbeat march 2016

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