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Il trionfo Italiano di Gonzalo Rubalcaba

12 maggio 2010 Il trionfo italiano di Gonzalo Rubalcaba

di Franco Fayenz

Sei anni or sono, a fine maggio, il club Blue Note di Milano ospitò per alcune sere il pianista cubano Gonzalo Rubalcaba in veste di solista. Fu una rivelazione, almeno dalle nostre parti e per gli ascoltatori più attenti, che si ripetè cinque mesi dopo nei concerti di Musica per Roma. Rubalcaba, che oggi ha 47 anni, non era di certo uno sconosciuto. Figlio d’arte, maturato come pianista e compositore attraverso severi studi classici e poi jazzista per scelta, aveva ottenuto successi in tutto il mondo e vinto un premio Grammy dopo che il contrabbassista Charlie Haden, in tournée a Cuba nel 1986 con la sua Liberation Music Orchestra, lo aveva ascoltato per caso e ne era rimasto entusiasta. Quattro anni più tardi lo portò con sé in Svizzera al Festival di Montreux, in trio con Paul Motian alla batteria, proiettandolo nell’élite internazionale dei musicisti di jazz. Ciò malgrado numerosi critici (anche e soprattutto italiani, si direbbe) non accreditarono mai Rubalcaba di quella marcia in più che fa di un pianista un grande pianista. Ma il motivo, nascosto e inconsapevole, c’era. Rubalcaba, nei concerti e nei dischi, si esibiva sempre in piccoli gruppi, dal duo al sestetto, rinunciando sempre – è naturale che sia così – a una parte della propria personalità per concorrere a formare quella del complesso. Qualcosa, quindi, rimaneva in ombra, e non erano sufficienti un paio di cd solitari a fare piena luce sulla sua vera statura. Nel 2004, a Milano e a Roma, alcuni esperti hanno capito, e di conseguenza hanno cercato di rivedere la sua biografia artistica e di riascoltare con la massima attenzione i suoi cd, però a livello di pubblico non è bastato. Adesso Rubalcaba si è presentato da solo al quindicesimo Festival internazionale del jazz di Vicenza (tuttora in corso). Fra grandi nomi come Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, McCoy Tyner e il batterista ottantacinquenne Roy Haynes poteva perfino passare inosservato. Qualcuno, fingendosi poco al corrente delle sue vicende, gli ha chiesto la ragione della sua solitudine. «E’ una decisione che ho preso qualche tempo fa» ha risposto «e ormai le eccezioni a questa mia regola sono sempre più rare. Mi sono accorto che suonando da soli si è completamente liberi; in due si è meno liberi, figuriamoci in un gruppo. Io lo so bene, e so pure che l’improvvisazione in solo implica maggiori rischi, ma vale la pena di correrli». Il suo concerto ha avuto luogo nell’incanto del Teatro Olimpico, naturalmente senza amplificazione. La bellezza della sala ha sollecitato Rubalcaba a dare il meglio, lo ha detto lui stesso. Ha iniziato in modo quasi sommesso, prendendo quota nota dopo nota. Ha messo in evidenza tecnica, tocco, tatto (le famose tre t del pianista russo Nikita Magaloff), un fraseggio nitido e superbo, velocissimo dove occorreva, e una perfetta indipendenza delle mani. Seguendo una discutibile abitudine, molti gli hanno cercato nel jazz un pianista progenitore. Ma al massimo ce n’è uno solo, per virtuosismo e geniale inventività, ed è il sommo Art Tatum. Verso la fine del concerto è affiorata l’anima neolatina di Rubalcaba in un tema che gli è caro, Besame Mucho, e nelle prodigiose variazioni con cui ha abbellito il poco noto Peanut Vendor. E’ stato un trionfo, e questa volta lo ricorderanno tutti.

12 maggio 2010


GONZALO RUBALCABA QUINTET Centro Cultural Miguel Delibes Sala Teatro Experimental “Álvaro Valentín” (Valladolid)

GONZALO RUBALCABA QUINTET

Centro Cultural Miguel Delibes Sala Teatro Experimental “Álvaro Valentín” (Valladolid)

20 de noviembre de 2010 – Crónica por Borja Sánchez Mayoral

Gonzalo Rubalcaba: piano

Yosvany Terry: saxos alto y soprano

Mike Rodriguez: trompeta y fliscorno

Matt Brewer: contrabajo

Ernesto Simpson: batería y percusión

Contar en la programación de conciertos de Valladolid con un músico de la talla de Gonzalo Rubalcaba ha sido todo un acierto. Con 47 años, Gonzalo Rubalcaba –de nacionalidad cubana y americana- es un pianista destacad de la escena jazzística internacional de las dos últimas décadas, poseyendo una carrera sólida donde se combinan tradiciones musicales de Cuba y Estados Unidos. Potenciadas sus inquietudes y habilidades desde pequeño porsu padre –el pianista Guillermo Rubalcaba-, Gonzalo despuntó desde jovencito. Sus primeras grabaciones datan de comienzos y mediados de los 80, llegando a firmar en 1990 un LP extraordinario con Charlie Haden y Paul Motian, ‘Discovery: Live At Montreux’.

Este álbum, donde su enorme virtuosismo tuvo una mayor proyección, supuso el espaldarazo definitivo en una trayectoria que presentó en su siguiente trabajo, ‘The Blessing’ (1991), también en formato trío –en esta ocasión con Charlie Haden y Jack DeJohnette-, otro hito de unas dimensiones artísticas equivalentes. En el resto de la discografía de Gonzalo Rubalcaba también podemos encontrar numerosos surcos interesantes, entre otros los contenidos en ‘Mi Gran Pasión’ (1987), ‘Rapsodia’ (1992), ‘Inner Voyage’ (1999), ‘Supernova’ (2001) y ‘Avatar’ (2008), trabajos en los que el pianista demuestra asimismo una versatilidad notable. El quinteto de Rubalcaba llegó a la sala Teatro Experimental del Auditorio Miguel Delibes con la intención de interpretar ‘Avatar’, el penúltimo trabajo del pianista si tenemos en cuenta que hace muy poco ha publicado ‘Fe’ (2010), un extenso disco en solitario lanzado desde su sello 5Passion, recientemente fundado junto a Gary Galimidi.

De las siete composiciones de ‘Avatar’, solo “Infantil” está firmada por Gonzalo, “perteneciendo” al saxofonista Yosvany Terry “Looking In Retrospective”, “This Is It” y “Hipside”, y al contrabajista Matt Brewer la misteriosa “Aspiring To Normalcy”. “Peace” de Horace Silver y “Preludio Corto No. 2 For Piano (Tu Amor Era Falso)” del cubano Alejandro García Caturla completan el listado. La formación que vino a Valladolid, salvo el batería Ernesto Simpson, fue la que grabó el disco, y en la actuación el pianista dedicó a los músicos unas palabras, diciendo que era un álbum que recoge capacidad y fantasía compositiva. Madurez, contención y visión de conjunto pueden ser términos que definan también este trabajo, en el que las ejecuciones acrobáticas de Rubalcaba no tienen la presencia de antaño. Perspectiva, expresividad y libertad para un jazz con ecos neoyorkinos, intrincado e imaginativo, que se mueve con naturalidad por distintos terrenos y no puede circunscribirse a una etiqueta como la del latin jazz.

Durante el concierto, Rubalcaba y sus socios elaboraron un discurso musical sin fisuras a través de composiciones largas. Dotado de una técnica asombrosa y una gran sensibilidad, el pianista enfocó y dirigió la actuación sin sobresalir demasiado del conjunto siendo, como hemos insinuado al hablar de ‘Avatar’, un elemento más dentro del esquema. Desde algo más de una década, tiene una mayor propensión hacia la melodía que hacia la complejidad rítmica, y su estilo tampoco olvidó la meticulosidad, la velocidad con las teclas y el pulso preciso. Combinó destreza con emotividad y templanza, y determinadas travesuras próximas al free, quiebros y filigranas con pinceladas concisas, todo ello con mucha seguridad. Le respaldaba en esta aventura un grupo que se articulaba y amoldaba en función del desarrollo y el momento de la pieza. La sección de vientos contaba con Yosvany Terry, un saxofonista que soplaba con sentimiento y decisión y dejó valiosas aportaciones, especialmente con el saxo soprano. Asimismo Terry se movió en ciertas ocasiones dentro de unos registros más libres, sin perder las coordenadas. El trompetista

Mike Rodriguez tenía una sonoridad limpia, luminosa e incisiva, manteniendo la comunicación y colaborando en la formación de texturas. El contrabajista Matt Brewer contribuyó al espacio común manejando su instrumento con plasticidad, defendiendo bien su parcela y apoyando en varios pasajes la construcción de un poderoso groove, siendo secundando por Ernesto Simpson, batería contundente, ágil y creativo, que no escondía sus influencias latinas.

La sencilla pero eficaz pantalla de fondo, que podía tener como motivo unos círculos concéntricos con colores que giraban o una iluminación más neutra, acompañaba bien la evolución de una música densa, de diferentes ambientes, logradas transiciones y brillantes cambios de ritmo, llevada a cabo con soltura y elegancia. En los bises, Gonzalo tuvo el protagonismo con dos interpretaciones en solitario,

sobresaliendo la adaptación de “El Manisero”, en la que dio una de sus mayores exhibiciones aquella noche, al revisar de manera poliédrica este clásico de la música cubana.Antes de esto, en el momento de presentar a los músicos y agradecer al público y a los promotores, manifestó sus ganas de volver a Valladolid: “Ojala se repita pronto y en verano”. Deseamos que así sea.

Texto: Borja Sánchez Mayoral

Fotos: Antonio Macías

Modern Drummer Oct 1, 2007 Vic Stevens on Ignacio Berroa

VIC STEVENS ON IGNACIO BERROA

Gonzalo Rubalcaba‘s Paseo is one of those albums that has greatness written all over it. Drumming icon/legend Ignacio Berroa lays it down so thick, it’s impossible not to become absorbed with his groove. The lock between Berroa and bassist Jose Armando Gola is quite special. Ignacio makes the tunes sound so relaxed that you almost forget how deep they really are. This whole album is a tremendous statement to groovin’ hard within the complexities of well-written tunes.

Sunday Birmingham (England) March 16th, 2008

Play: GONZALO RUBALCABA Avatar (Blue Note)

Byline: JD

It’s always good to see an established artist putting something back into the music that has inspired success. For his 13th Blue Note outing, acclaimed Cuban piano virtuoso Gonzalo Rubalcaba combines his classical training and innovative jazz technique with a hastily assembled band of New York novices, and the results are breathtaking. Young gun saxman Yosvany Terry, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Marcus Gilmore had never performed together before they started to improvise with Rubalcaba in the studio but the instrumental dialogues that followed are both joyous and lyrical. A breath of fresh air.

PALME D’OR, Music Academy Paris, France

Art Critics Association Japan

Review of “Fé” by John Savoth

Review of “Fé” By John Savoth

I first started listening to Gonzalo quite late in the game when I purchase his album Avatar back in 2008. His sound is a challenging mix of afro Cuban styling with the obvious historical influences of Monk, Powell, and even the bebop sensibility of Parker, although the final creation is far from the traditional structure of bebop jazz. It’s his sound and it’s beautiful, passionate, intelligent and filled with the mystery and authenticity of his Cuban heritage. With this background, I approached his latest solo endeavor, Fé (Faith) recently released on his own independent label, 5Passion Productions. I’ve been drawn to solo piano for some time now, particularly Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Vijay Iyer, Andrew Hill and Bill Evans among others, and this disc is a wonderful addition. Players often speak of a master’s voice in the jazz medium, particularly with horn players; that is, those players who have honed their craft to the level that their sound is uniquely theirs (Coltrane, Rollins, Gordon, etc.) but there are certain pianists whose styles have developed to the level that you know it’s them as soon as they touch the keys. Gonzalo fits right into this distinguished group. I recommend, in particular, the beautiful ballad Jean and his two takes on Blue in Green.

The man sure can play-The Independent (London, England) August 29, 1995 Author: JOHN LYTTLE

In a jazz age still overshadowed by the Edmund Hillary-like heroes of the Fifties and Sixties, who scaled the peaks in mohair suits, with a cigarette in their mouths and a monkey on their backs, it’s rather alarming to come across a contemporary musician whose sheer genius announces itself from the off. But the Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba – who plays Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on Saturday – demonstrated on his debut Blue Note album, Live at Montreux, in 1991, exactly the kind of brilliance that is not supposed to happen any more. With Charlie Haden on double-bass and Paul Motian on drums, he clearly had good taste on his side already, but from the opening notes of the first track’s reworking of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t”, lights flashed, bells rang and the elusive jazz jackpot’s coins poured out in a flood. He began with a full-tilt vamp on the chords, Afro-Cuban rhythms driving manic repetitions, until Monk’s lop-sided theme emerged amid a welter of virtuoso effects, a double-time salsa chorus leading into a second ascent on the tune until it slowed down to a dirge before the appropriately Monkian plinky-plonk ending. His unaccompanied solo on the self-composed third track was even better, a playful cadenza that mixed the history of post-war jazz piano styles with a ferocious Cuban lilt. And then he played a ballad so tenderly it almost made you weep. He was 27 and suddenly the most exciting pianist in the world. Unfortunately for his career, he was also Cuban. The son of a renowned Havana musician, whose own father was one of Cuba’s most illustrious danzon composers, Rubalcaba entered the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory at the age of eight to be taught by his mother before studying composition at the Arts Institute of Havana. By the time of his Blue Note debut (actually leased to the label by the Japanese subsidiary Something Else, in order to circumvent the US economic blockade of Cuba)Rubalcaba had already recorded a number of albums and toured Europe. Indeed, it was his fate to be “discovered” over and over again, by Dizzy Gillespie, who played with him at Havana’s 1985 jazz festival; by Charlie Haden, at the same festival in 1986, and by the German label Messidor, who released albums by him in 1988 and 1989.

Now a genuine star, with a further four Blue Note albums behind him, Rubalcaba has remained a citizen of Cuba, although he lives in the Dominican Republic in order to practice his profession more easily than Cuba’s isolation allows. When he was invited to New York for a Lincoln Centre concert in 1993, a diplomatic row broke out, with the State Department considering him persona non grata, and exiled musicians like Paquito D’Rivera protesting his presence. He still managed to play, but critics carped that he was either too Cuban or not Cuban enough for the jazz tradition. His Edinburgh solo concert – a British debut – is something of a coup, but he will be back in the autumn for a tour with the classical pianist Katia Labeque.

I interviewed him in Germany, with his responses translated into English by his manager. Technique, which Rubalcaba is alternately praised and cursed for, is, he says, “something to which you don’t just have the key in your pocket, to use at your will. The more you have, the more you need to think about how you will use it, and in my case, I always have a sense of its limits.” His first musical influence was Cuban traditional music, especially the heavily African-flavoured music of the church. “After that,” he says, “was Cuban popular music – also very African – and the music I played in my father’s band. If I have a style of my own, it is because I have been using jazz as a reference while also taking in the Cuban and African background which was itself an important influence to jazz musicians in the US.” Rubalcaba is also a much more varied player than he is credited for – he even does a nifty version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. The tune, he concedes, was suggested by his manager, but he remains a Fab Four fan, because, he says, he’s in sympathy with “the ideology of the time”. One fondly imagines Fidel himself grooving to Sgt Pepper in a natty camouflaged Beatle-jacket.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s Jazz, Played in a Club but Suited for a Concert Hall-By BEN RATLIFF- June 29, 2006

You have heard that one of the charming things about jazz is its halfway position between nightclub and concert-hall music. That it amounts to serious art that can accommodate musical slang, casual reflexes, earthiness, humor.

That perception stops at the Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. His solo set on Tuesday night at the Jazz Standard was totally, purely meant for the concert hall. And the concert hall might not have been good enough. A soundproof room, maybe. On the moon.

The weightless atmosphere of Mr. Rubalcaba’s performance didn’t come from looseness; it was brought to you by tension. In all of these pieces he used heavy rubato playing, and the fluctuation of tempo was no light matter; it was 75 straight minutes of sheer alert perception.

It would have all seemed excessive, or chilly, if it wasn’t so staggeringly beautiful. Mr. Rubalcaba can extract a chord from the piano with a shallow, trebly ring, as if playing the harp; he can play a bright, bony note or end a phrase in a chord as subtle as an aftertaste. During the performance, delivered without any introductions or microphone time, he slipped out of pieces unnoticed, ending some songs with faint chords and a whiff of irresolution, not giving the audience time to realize what was going on.

For the gig Mr. Rubalcaba partly followed the arc of his most recent record, “Solo” (Blue Note). He started with the first track, “Rezo,” a lovely slow piece of music at that seemed to move through the harmonic atmosphere of a Duke Ellington ballad. It wasn’t your typical set opener. In some pieces — like his “Quasar,” with a repeated two-chord figure in the left hand — there were steady anchors; in some improvised pieces, based on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” chord changes, there was just a kind of floating, signified by long, improvised right-hand phrases, accelerating and decelerating.

The set was so original that you didn’t feel you were hearing other people’s music. Yet you were: among the pieces lingered over were “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “El Manisero” and “Bésame Mucho.” It was also entirely within the limits of functional harmony, except for some agitated free playing on “Quasar,” yet it felt beautifully disorienting in its solemn and controlled musical rhetoric.

Mr. Rubalcaba won’t be doing this all week: by today, and through the rest of his run at the club, he will be joined by a bassist, Matt Brewer, and a drummer, Jeff Watts. It was generous to play such music in a place where people were actually drawing breath, let alone eating barbecue.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba performs as part of a trio through Sunday night at the Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, Manhattan; (212) 576-2232.

Meticulous Jazzman of the World-By BEN RATLIFF- Published: February 17, 2008- The New York Times

The Cuban-born pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who over the last 15 years or so has become one of the greatest musicians in jazz, is meticulous about music. You can tell this by the first unaccompanied notes of “Avatar,” his complexly beautiful new album. He has an almost eerie control over his sound, as if he were playing the strings directly instead of using the keys as intermediaries. He is also meticulous about ideas. He tends to classify music rather exactly, and he talks about jazz in terms of codes and information. He prepares his records — “productions,” he calls them — with conceptual rigor.

Mr. Rubalcaba has spent about a decade living in southern Florida in a quiet gated community about half-hour from Fort Lauderdale. His life looks more like that of a classical-music virtuoso than a jazz musician. He goes to the airport, tours, comes home and dives back into practice.

“I always wanted to have silence when I got home from working,” he said, sitting in the living room of his house last week, dressed entirely in white. Mr. Rubalcaba, who has a wife and three children, is 44, though he looks younger, and talks older. He is small and compact, with boyish freckles on his nose, but discusses his music with lofty self-assurance, almost professorially.

“Avatar,” which came out this month on Blue Note, represents his first serious interaction with the younger jazz musicians on the New York scene in his 15 years of playing in America. (He is to appear at the Village Vanguard, from Tuesday to next Sunday.)

New York can use him. An exciting recent undercurrent of music in the city has been a new kind of Afro-Latin jazz, with greater intellectual complexity, compositional ambition and cultural precision.

But Mr. Rubalcaba has mostly not been part of it. Instead he has been making his records and working around the world with his trio; he has also been involved in album projects with Charlie Haden and Joe Lovano, and has been devising a solo-piano repertory. Mr. Rubalcaba comes from a musical family in Cuba: his father and grandfather were prominent members of popular orchestras. (His father, Guillermo Rubalcaba, was for a time the pianist in the band of the violinist Enrique Jorrín, who created the cha-cha-cha.) Born in 1963, he grew up regularly seeing the best Cuban popular musicians playing in his house: Jorrín, the bassist Juan Formell of Los Van Van, the pianist Frank Emilio Flynn, the percussionist Changuito, the singer Omara Portuondo.

This was a perfect complement for Mr. Rubalcaba’s studies at Cuba’s musical conservatory, where he learned European classical music. “I had two schools,” he said. “The school that I could get in my house, the music of the street coming through my father and my family, and the orthodox school, the classical school, that didn’t want to hear anything about popular music.”

In 1992 he legally left Cuba and went to the Dominican Republic, where he lived for six years; he then he applied for permanent residence in the United States. (He is now a United States citizen; each time he returns to Cuba to see his family, he must apply for a visa.)

Last year Mr. Rubalcaba put “Avatar” together in a hurry, after trying and failing to tease out a concept for another piano-trio record. He decided he was tired of the format, having done it consistently for at least 15 years. (He has made more than 20 albums.) He heard a broader instrumental sound in his head, and enlisted a quintet, member by member.

He started with the saxophonist Yosvany Terry, a slightly younger Cuban living in New York, whom Mr. Rubalcaba knew from school days in Havana. He found Mike Rodriguez, a young trumpeter in Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and Matt Brewer, a bassist with Greg Osby’s  band. At the end of the process, at Mr. Brewer’s suggestion, he added the drummer Marcus Gilmore, whom Mr. Rubalcaba had never heard. Mr. Gilmore had the task of learning some ferociously complicated music in three days. Three weeks of performances followed, then the making of the album in New York.

In the context of Mr. Rubalcaba’s career the record is unusually cooperative. He asked his band members to contribute compositions; Mr. Terry wrote three pieces for the album, and Mr. Brewer wrote one. And the quintet is as up-to-date a jazz group as can be found.

Sizing up Mr. Brewer and Mr. Gilmore, both in their 20s, Mr. Rubalcaba spoke not so much of what they are playing — their techniques or licks — but the wide range of what they are absorbing, what they are listening to, where they’re getting their input. “They’re part of a new generation of musicians that has more hunger about other things outside of jazz,” he said. “And they don’t see those things as exotic. They see them as serious and deep.” Mr. Rubalcaba himself learned jazz in bits and pieces. Until the late 1970s Cuban musicians were severely discouraged from playing it, for political reasons. Beyond that was the problem of what he calls information. In the mid-1980s Mr. Rubalcaba used to listen to a half-hour jazz show on Cuban radio, but the music didn’t go past the early ’60s; the disc jockey kept replaying items in his limited library, Mr. Rubalcaba remembered. He also had the option of searching for the few American jazz records that had been licensed to record labels in Communist-bloc countries or learning about records from friends who had traveled outside Cuba.  Keith Jarrett, for instance, was not a big influence among Cuban musicians in the ’80s because his records were hard to come by. But Mr. Rubalcaba found his way to Mr. Jarrett’s solo album “Facing You” when a friend brought back a copy from America. And in 1983, when Mr. Rubalcaba went on tour with the dynastic charanga group Orquesta Aragón, someone in Paris gave him a copy of Mr. Jarrett’s “Survivor’s Suite.” To his amazement, six years later he would play with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, musicians on that album.

He has several things going now: his current tour with his new band; his continuing performances of solo-piano repertory, in which he bridges Cuba’s classical and popular music with improvisation and chilling focus; a collaboration with the Cuban-born singer Francisco Céspedes, his second; and a studio session with the French jazz accordionist Richard Galliano in the spring .

He has also been rehearsing in Los Angeles for an opera called “Revolution of Forms,” which may have its first performance in 2011. Set in Havana in 1961, it describes the planning of Cuba’s state art schools. The story tells how various architects and politicians — including Fidel Castro  and Che Guevara — argued about the correct way to fuse art with politics and history. (Mr. Rubalcaba, who attended the school, is working on the score with another composer, Anthony Davis; the libretto is being written by Charles Koppelman and the Mexican-born journalist Alma Guillermoprieto, who taught dance at the school in the ’60s.)

Mr. Rubalcaba is a serious cultural syncretist: he talks analytically and philosophically about combining aesthetic elements from Cuba, America and Europe, of mixing ancient and modern. “We have reached a point in the evolution not only of music, but of the world, where people have less resistance to being mixed,” he said. “It is a time to be open and anxious to learn beyond your own space. And it doesn’t take anything away from you. In fact it brings rich things to you.”

But he disdained the idea of working according to a grand project. He applies himself to whatever is in front of him, he explained. “I work as if the thing I’m working on will be the last thing I do,” he said. “It’s much better than looking around it to see what’s ahead.”

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