Archive for the ‘Album Liner Notes’ Category

“XXI Century” Digital Booklet

XXI Century Digital Booklet

“Fé” Digital Booklet

For those of you that downloaded the new album from iTunes, here is a digital version of the disc art which will be available at within a few weeks. Thank You!!! and enjoy….

CD “Fé” Digital booklet

“Avatar” Digital Booklet

Digital Booklet Download

“Giraldilla” Liner Notes


The historical role of the danzon, a passionate Cuban dance derived from the danza 1, in the formation of contemporary Cuban culture is comparable to that of other Latin American genres, such as the Brazilian choro or the Argentinian tango. The urban cultures of Havana, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires were shaped by these respective musical forms, which were played in the dance halls, brothels, and silent-movie houses. These genres bear the mark of Europe in their form and harmony, but use syncopated African-derived rhythms. The danzan, for example, owes its keen energy to the cinquillo, a rhythmic element of African origin which is also found in the Lucumi drumming tradition. But let’s start from the beginning… On or about the first day of January of 1879, a clarinetist named Miguel Failde ) allegedly played the first danzan (“Las Alturas de Simpson”) at El Liceo), asocial club in the seaport of Matanzas. One can assume that some dancing caballeros dropped their Havana cigars when they realized that Failde’s new dance was more rhythmical and variegated than the danza or the contradanza. After all, Failde had been putting out fires with his clarinet since the age of 12, when he joined the Firemen’s Band of Matanzas, a city which owes its name to various massacres committed by the ruthless Spanish conquistadores. By the way, danzones such as “Guerra” and “EI Combate”, composed during the revolutionary war against Spain, expressed the restless political ideologies of most Cubans, who eventually gained their independence from the so-called madre patria, and turned out to be excellent entrepreneurs, but lousy and incompetent politicians. One must clarify that the current structure and choreography of the danzon were developed by a musician who was born a month after Failde’s  gig at EI Liceo. Jose Urfe incorporated arhythmic element from the son in his famous danzon “El Bombin de Barreto”, first played at a social club in the town of Guira de Melena, where a few dancers probably dropped their derby hats upon realizing that Urfe’s transplanted montuno 5, a vehicle for improvisation in Cuban music, had transfonned the danzan’ s vigorous choreography by facilitating adiversity of pasillos (dance steps) which allowed the dancers to freely express their mischievious intentions.


The danzon eventually became a victim of cultural imperialism and other modern tragedies, when the island was invaded by the yanqui foxtrot and charleston, the Spanish couplet, and other alien products. Some danzoneros realized that their days were numbered in 1916, during the debut of the first troupe of U.S. Black musicians, whose sound appealed to the unsuspected disorientation of the island’s schizophrenic culture. This is why various Cuban flautists suddenly became saxophonists, while many timbaleros began to play U.S.-style trap drums. The most damaging blow, however, was inflicted by a musical fifth column from Oriente Province, where Cuba’s historical tragedies usually originate: By 1920, the son had conquered the western provinces of Cuba, replacing the danzan as the most popular dance. In a desperate attempt to save the danzan tradition, flautist Aniceto Diaz (1887-1964) created the danzonete, a mixture of the son and the danzan in 1929. Like the danzan, the first danzonete was born in Diaz’s hometown, Matanzas. Appropiately entitled “Rompiendo la Rutina” (Breaking the Routine) the first danzonete was played at La Colonia Espanola, a social club for Spanish immigrants and Cubans of Spanish descent 6. Despite its brief popularity during the 30’s, the danzonete resulted in the charanga orchestras’ utilization of certain vocalists (i.e. Paulina Alvarez, Barbarito Diez, Joseito Fernandez), who became the center of popular attention as interpreters of boleros, criollas, canciones or guajiras. In terms of instrumentation, the danzones were initially played by orquestas tipicas (cornet-led bands supported by clarinets and trombone, with tympani predominant in the percussion 7. By the 1930’s, however, the orquestas tipicas had become a rare commodity, and the danzones were played by flute and- fiddle charangas francesas (remember Haiti?), which adapted to the gradual Africanization of Cuban music 8 tltrough the development of the nuevo ritmo 9 and the introduction of the tumbadora (conga drum) in the charanga orchestra of”Arcano y sus Maravillas”

One of he most fascinating facts about Cuban music is the existence of various dynasties which have been devoted to the preservation of the danzon and other traditional genres. Such is the case of the Rubalcabas, whose historical significance can be traced to the trombonist Jacobo Gonzalez Rubalcaba, author of “EI Cadete Constitucional”, “Los Pinarenos”, “Linda Mercedes” and other famous danzones. After forming his orquesta tipica in 1918, Jacobo played an important role in promoting the danzon throughout Pinar del Rio Province. Jacobo’s children were also fIrmly committed to the danzon tradition, particularly Jose Antonio (director of Pinardel Rio’s Orquesta Metropolitana) and Guillermo, leader of the Charanga Tipica de Conciertos. Guillermo also happens to be the father of the young protagonist of this recording, Havana born Gonzalo Rubalcaba, whose percussive playing is rooted in his childhood: At the tender age of 4, little Gonzalo was already playing pailas, and two years later his father gave him a set of trap drums. By the age of 9, he began five years of classical training at Havana’s best conservatory, where he was familiarized with the works of the great Cuban composers (Lecuona, Cervantes, Roldan etc). Through his father, ofcourse, Gonzalo was exposed to the danzon legacy, as well as recordings by prominent U.S. pianists (i.e. Thelonious Monk, Budd Powell, Oscar Peterson) Gonzalo was also impressed with the styles of various Cuban pianists, such as Frank Emilio, Peruchin, Felipe Dulzaides, Lili Martinez, and his own father. The child prodigy was only 12 years old when he began to compose and release his improvisational creativity. That’s when the jazz pianist finally emerged. In terms of academic development, it is known that Gonzalo majored in piano and percussion at the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory, and later obtained a degree in musical composition at the university level Institute of Fine Arts. Gonzalo never touched any drums after he graduated – the pianist was here to stay. After collaborating with the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna 10, Orquesta Aragon 11 and Los Van Van 12, Gonzalo began to record and lead his own instrumental group on international tours. In fact, his electro-acoustic band (Grupo Proyecto) has played in the most important jazz festivals (North Sea, Montreux, Berlin, etc) and other highly visible venues, such as Toronto’s Mocambo Club and Ronnie Scott’s in London. Although he is still prohibited from appearing personally in the U.S., Gonzalo’s eclectic sound has made a significant impact on numerous U.S. jazz musicians since Dizzy Gillespie literally jumped with admiration when he heard Gonzalo’s band at Havana’s Hotel Nacional, circa 1985, and offered this comment: “He’s the best that l’ve heard in along time”. Dizzy’s praise is echoed by drummer Jack DeJohnette, who states that “Gonzalo’s brilliant technique is obvious, but his sensitive ballad playing makes him an exceptional talent with an incredibly bright future”. Bassist Charlie Haden goes even further by providing amathematical description of Gonzalo: “Technical brilliance plus creativity depth equals genius”. One must agree with Haden’s formula -only a genius could make apiano sound so energetic and graceful as Gonzalo, who has been electrifying European, Latin American and Japanese audiences for years with his powerful technique, engrossing approach, and the enigmatic sense of mysticism which is prevalent throughout his expressive, disciplined phrases. In fact, “disciplined” is an important adjective to remember when talking about Gonzalo’s music: Even his most turbulent solos possess a reasonable and structured logic.


In this unprecedented tribute to the danzon, recorded in Germany in 1987, Gonzalo demonstrates to be afact that what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Spanish tinge” has a durable place at the heart of modern sounds. Gonzalo has successfully merged the three main currents of his artistic personality (danzon, jazz, and classical music), while conducting this passionate Cuban tradition through thrilling, unexplored territories. His modem approach, inspired in the danzones of Pedrito Hernandez 13, does not dilute or adulterate the artistic essence of the danzon legacy. After all, the third generation danzonero feels that “it was imperative to record a danzon album, as this genre is regarded as the Cuban National Dance, but it had become a museum object within the realm of traditional Cuban music”. One of the main characteristics of the danzon, by the way, is the utilization of musical quotations from varied sources, from pregones callejeros (street vendor songs) to bolero melodies and operatic arias 14. Gonzalo complies with this musical ritual by quoting Tschaikowsky fragments, popular songs, and Richard Addinsell’s melodies.


Through his intense interaction with Gonzalo’s keyboards, Felipe Cabrera proves beyond any doubt that he belongs to the supreme elite of Cuban bass players (i.e. Israel “Cachao” Lapez, Jorge Reyes, Carlos del Puerto) …Roberto Vizcaino and Horatio Hernandez also belong to an exclusive fraternity- the rare breed of percussionists who can utilize their instruments for orchestral color, as if they were strings or woodwinds… Saxophonist Rafael Carrasco and trumpeters Lazaro Cruz and Reinaldo Melian accomplished a heroic act by replacing the violinists which are usually featured in the traditional danzan. Enrique Jorrin 15 would have been proud of them.

The historical significance of this recording is rather evident. The innovative danzan experiments conducted by Gonzalo are comparable to the revitalizing accomplishments of Astor Piazzolla and Paco de Lucia in relation to the tango and flamenco, respectively. Thanks to Gonzalo’s great passion, the danzon is back in town … and the ghosts of Miguel Failde, Jose Urfe, et al, can finally rest in peace.

1) The danza in turn derived from the contradanse brought to
Cuba toward the end of the 18th Century by the French
colonialists who fled from Haiti, a nation which would never
fully recover from the first revolution of the Western
2) Born in Caobas, a town with an alleged abundance of
mahogany trees, Miguel Faflde (1852-1926) left behind a
series of danzones, valses, pasodobles and marchas.
3) In his 19th Century traveling memoir, published in Havana in
1928, U.S. writer Samuel Hazard recalls avisit to EI Liceo by
stating that he had “never seen so many beautiful women


A La Fuerza Espirita, Sostenida Musica En La Historia De Los Mas Diversos Encantamientos Armonicos, En La Ciencia Ritmica, La Tecnica Oradora Y La Busqueda De Espacios Y Formas En Tiempos. Al Impulso Espontaneo Y Arrebato Que En La Improvisacion Encontramos Y Reqalamos La Vida Como Parte Y Cuadro De La Obra Por Componer. Al Estimulo Brujo, A La Mistica Agonica Y Secreta Que Ofrece EI Buen Arte, EI Artista De Ia Vida En Extasis, Arropado Por Ia Fé Para CantarIe Al Amor Y La Muerte, Y La Vida.

To The Spirits Strength – Sustained Music In The History Of The Most Diverse Harmonic Enchantments – Rythmical Science, Praying Technique And Searching For Space And Temporary Forms To The Spontaneous Impulse – Out Burst Of Improvisation That We Present To Life As Frame And Part Of The Work To Be Composed To The Witch Stimulus, To The Secret Mystical Agony That Art Offers- The Artist Himself In Ecxtasis, Wrapped In Faith – In Chanting Love, Death And Life.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba

“Concierto Negro” Liner Notes

La musica negra africana se impone no solo al oido, sino a todas las facultade del hombre, a todas sus posibilidades de entendimiento por medio dio de sonoridades acordes o al unisono, con una concepcion del mundo y del mas alia. A su vez esas s0noridades parecen responder a un mundo en movimiento que busca perpetuamente a perfeccion.

Francis Bebey

… A la musica latinoamericana hay que aceptarla en bloque tal y como es, admitiendose que sus mas originales expresiones l0 mismo pueden sa irle de la calle, como venirle de las academias. En el pasado fueron tanedores campesinos, intrumentistas de arrabal, obscuros guitarreros, pianistas de cine /…/ quienes Ie dieron tarjeta de identidad, empaque y estilo, y ahi esta la diferencia esencial, a nuestro juicio, entre la historia musical de Roma, de Europa y la historia musical de America Latina, donde en epocas todavia recientes una buena cancio local podia resultar de mayor enriquecimiento estetico que una sinfonia mediantemente lograda, que nada anadia al bagaje sinfonico universal.

Alejo Carpentier

“Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival” Liner Notes

At the 50th anniversary of the Monterey Jazz Festival, held in September 2007, bassist Dave Holland, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, saxophonist Chris Potter, and drummer Eric Harland performed the music you hear on this CD twice-first on the main stage, then again at Dizzy’s Den, a smaller, more intimate hall on the festival grounds. The main stage premiere thrilled the crowd, to be sure, but something downright magical happened the second time the band played.

“There was really an electric atmosphere from the audience,” recalls Holland. “There was an energy we all felt, that kind of circular energy that goes on between the musicians and the audience. It’s a very powerful thing when it really takes off.”

From the first urgent notes of Harland’s “Treachery,” you can feel a special situation unfolding. We are fortunate that tape was rolling.

Over its 52-year history, the Monterey Jazz Festival has done well at capturing such moments. You probably already know about Charles Mingus’ extraordinary 1964 performance of Meditations on Integration, the debut of the John Handy Quintet the following year and Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower the year after that.

Though all four players come from vastly different backgrounds, they share at least three important characteristics, not the least of which is a penchant for rhythmic complexity (and the dexterity to deal with it). Anyone familiar with Holland’s work knows that his ability to swing with locomotive momentum through odd time signatures (or combinations thereof, within a single piece), jagged patterns and polyrhythmic jungles is legendary. Rubalcaba, for his part, has internalized a host of traditional Latin American rhythms, but rather than manifesting them in a folkloric way, he extends them into the modern idiom. Fans of Eric Harland-who may know his work with Blanchard-has recently made a pronounced move toward the world rhythms, as well.
“I’m more influenced by Zakir Hussain these days,” says Eric, who has been working with the Indian tabla player in a trio with Charles Lloyd, on the album Sangam. “His consciousness of rhythm opens up a realm for us to communicate on so many polyrhythmic levels, as well as the discovery of different sounds and textures.”

“We’ve all been working on how to work within different meters and not have it sound like an academic exercise, but make it sound like music,” says Potter, whose mastery of odd time signatures is evident in his work with Holland as well as on his own.

All four of these players also privilege the idea of jazz as a conversation (as opposed to oration or, God forbid, soliloquy), which means they are all keen listeners as well as speakers. They can turn on a dime when someone else tosses in a dollar, remaining open to the flow of the music as it manifests itself.

Finally, these players also share a third, more elusive quality, one the Andalusian poet Garcia Lorca called duende, and which might best be translated as soulfulness. There is never a moment on this album when-like the bullfighter and bull in the ring-you feel the music is being played for stakes any lower than life and death. This is the real deal.

“Diz” Liner Notes

Bebop was the first concious step of afro-american musicians toward the renewal of their own cultural and historic being. It was a surprising advance that incorporated every modern musical tendency allowing the clash of jazz with its own roots through the cuban component-stressed when Chano Pow joined Gillespie‘s band-and keeping as a constant the character of improvisational music and the preference for the small instrumental formations. This was not a simple call for integration but fusion itself. To the cunning work that keeps and denies time, educates and convinces us all about the existence of Glory. To Diz, father and friend.


“Supernova” Liner Notes

GONZALO RUBALCABA: he is a luminary among musicians. A pianist-composer ,ensemble leader-recording artist, blazing an unparalleled arc in the 21st-century firmament, Rubalcaba makes music of substance that’s enlightening, enriching and enlivening in this moment. Supernova is a point of shining excellence in his path to an as-yet-unlimited apex. It’s also his most revealing recording to date of his Cuban musical heritage; its African, European and the Caribbean sources, and the music’s unfolding potential in the ever-changing New World. Pursuing precedents set by his 20th-century countrymen Alejandro Garcia Caturla and Amadeo Roldan, Rubalcaba asserts through both his compositions and far-ranging improvisations that all his island nation’s unique indigenous styles, from the elegant Danzon to the balladic bolero to the earthy son, share tangled roots, which, when interwoven, have unusual flexibility andstrength. Applying ultra-modern jazz sensibilities and a virtuosic vocabulary to the classical and vernacular genres he mastered as a childprodigy in Havana, Rubalcaba is on a mission to fix Afro-Cuban-American music where it belongs, among the most prominent constellations in the sky. Fueled by such aspirations, his performances gleam with diamond-like facets, variously bright, warm, cool, smoldering and hot. Each of his pieces sparkle with nuance—as if an arch of the eyebrow, shrug of the shoulder or shift of the hipsaccompanied flashing fingers, which might spin most anything into spontaneous, lyrical song. Gorgeous melodies, far-flung harmonies and rampant polyrhythms connote the life Rubalcaba has observed over more than 15 years of traversing the globe, making music on command for discerning audiences in first-rank clubs, festivals and concert halls. His reflections are romantic, wry, poetic and refined, but can often be dark. He plays with an experttouch beautiful ideas and finely-focused energy.

“Antiguo” Liner Notes

“Está hecho con máquina”

Muchas veces oí decir o leía de la critica especializada “Ya la música forma parte de un proceso industrializado” o mas simple y casi despectivo “Está hecho con máquina” si se reconocía la incidencia de manipulación tecnológica (midi y audio digital) en los distintos procesos  creativos en la producción de obra musical.  Y que en géneros como el jazz o la música clásica, perturban aun más a un grupo de “puristas” que sentían que tales procedimientos tecnológicos, competían o desvirtuaban la autentica manufactura y el depurado virtuosismo de sus creadores.

Este criterio creó toda una tendencia equivoca donde algunos de los más importantes musicos y creadores se sintieron intimados y se refugiaron en una cómoda postura “Unplugged” para escapar del dedo acusador de la crítica especializada, sin darse cuenta que paradójicamente  por un lado la evolución de la ciencia y la tecnología les estaba brindado fabulosas herramientas de trabajo y por otro se habían llenado de prejuicios a la ora de utilizarlas.

¿Por qué?

“Antiguo” es el resultado  de un extenso proceso de trabajo creativo donde la tecnología jugó un rol protagónico y fue utilizada de manera exhaustiva, al limite de las posibilidades del momento. Fue la herramienta indispensable que junto al depurado virtuosismo y el ingenio creativo de Gonzalo, definen el resultado estético e hicieron posible la realización de una obra discográfica de tal magnitud.

También es un bello ejemplo de muchas horas de trabajo experimental sin prejuicios.

Espero que en su disfrute encuentren la inspiración y confianza que nosotros tuvimos, para utilizar las herramientas tecnológicas de la época que nos toco vivir y decir con orgullo “está hecho con máquina”

Notes for Antigua

To think that there is progress in arts is one of the most damaging and common mistakes of Critics. Some people dare to reject or accept a work of art based on whether it is “modern” or not, this artirude puts any aesthetic analysis in a less than realistic light. What makes anypiece of art valuable is its timelessness and its capacity of reaching many people of different cultures and eras. If someone would write today as Homer or Dante did, he would have to be accepted and appreciated because the greatness of the work lies on its inner truth and coherence, not in any external condition. Cermuda depicted fame.. He looked for the poet’s glory. That glory is not eternal; thepoet is the son of time. It is not salvation either; the poet did not come to change or redeem the world, he came to idealize it. To Cermuda, the glory is in the artwork, in the well done verse chained to form — the living and thythmic body of the poem. He looked for glory not beyond time in the kingdom of incorruptible ideas, but in the beat of everyday work. He did not conceive glory as a symmertically petfect object. Instead, he looked for the perfection of live things that accept the complexity of the irregulat, of things that Bodeliet called bizarre, of things that lead to emptiness, death, the horrible and unnameable. The work does not exist without a reader to rescue it from the grave. Every teading is resurrection and a transmutation brought along by the support of the reader. The work of art rises and walks. Thanks to the reader, the poet is glorified thtough the poem. Names are unimportant. What matters and remains is the work of the poet. The poem is an embroidery of words and its temporality will be determined by its capacity to capture the truth. Art and authenticity are the double conditions for art to live. The artwork is not the ending. It is just a moment. Its life goes on everytime reader a rescues it and gives birth to a new poet. Glory is tradition. Glory is not the immortality of man but the continuity of language. A poem contains two enemy halves: culture and nature, instinct and conscience, fatality and liberty. They are tied to one another in a pact destined to be constantly broken.

Version from William Ospina’s “Es tarde paraen Hombre”

“Strength is born from necessity and dies in freedom”

Leonardo da Vinci

With all the things from childhood, the games and boleroes, talk and charangas, with all

that careless time, with fact of  that music smelling like authentic nature, I fulfill the circuit

of my life. Going through time sick and wise, white and black, contrary and brave, inspired

in the history of lamps, laurels, legs deserts and hills.


Thank’s to all who gave time and space for rhis production: musicians, executives, friends,

family and enemies.

Thanks to so many ancient emorions and the antiquity of dreams.


Keyboards: Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Sequencing: Gonzalo Rubalcaba/Mario Garcia


Piano & Keyboards: Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Trumpet: Reynaldo Me/ian

Bass: Felipe Cabrera

Drums: Julio Barreto

Sequencing: Gonzalo Rubalcaba/Mario Garcia

3. ELLIOKO (Yoruba word for”Two”)

This piece is dedicated to the Cuban Santeria God “Ochosi” – humer, physician, fortune teller and savior· one of the warriors of the Santeria iconography together with Eleggua and Oggun. Ochosi, who is identified with the arrow, is the son of Goddess Yernaya. Mother of the Sea, and brother of Inle – the Supreme Physician. The story is based on a Paraki (legend) and is structured into five choruses, each developing a moral, “Ochosi’s Pataki” . It is said that the day after Ochosi hunted 105 parrots, he promised Obatala (God of Minds and Thoughts) an offering of all the feathers from the birds. Having made the promise, Ochosi left the 105 parrots at home unril the following day. Meanwhile, Ochosi’s mother came home and, as usual, looked for what her son had hunted. She found the parrots, cooked them. threw away the feathers and took the food to a party with her friends. When Ochosi returned home, he became angry believing that someone had stolen his birds. He went back to the forest and hunted 105 more parrots and offered the feathers to Obarala as promised. Having acknowledged Ochosi’s skills, Obarala conceded him an “ache (miracle)”. Ochosi’s choice was ro make his arrows infallible whenever he used them. The first person ro whom the miracle was ro work was the one who had taken the 105 parrors, whomever it may have been. When Ochosi rerurned home, he found his mother dead with her heart pierced by her son’s arrow. In a life where we go from happiness to failure “ires ro Osobbos”, anger and lack of deliberation can drive us to a tragic ending. Departing from a motivic (dynamic) rhythm, the composer builds the entire structure by following the “marchanti” characrer of almost all the chants to Ochosi. Instead of a melodic theme, there is a rhythm pattern that sustains the exchange between chants and music. Through a careful research on the rites for Ochosi. the piece was written by tracing the emotions suggested by the legend. The piece was then adapted by Apwon Lazaro Ros, a connoisseur of Santeria, so that the chants tell the story of the legend. There is a unity among the Afrocuban percussion, drums and sequenced elements that suggest an alternare exchange between the traditional and the rational. The formal construction follows the patrern of showing the same sections with slight variations each time.

“The Blessing” Liner Notes

If Gonzalo Rubalcaba was “discovered” by Charlie Haden during a 1986 Liberation Music Orchestra tour of Cuba and first introduced to the international jazz world through his surprise 1990 Montreux Jazz fest appearance with Haden and drummer Paul Motian (heard on Discovery,) The Blessing is the wondrous studio debut of a phenomenally gifted and mature artist. If Gonzalo is the brilliantly original heir of a Havana family long celebrated for its musicality, a student since early consciousness of his father Guilhermos’ piano tenure with Enrique Torrin’s Orchestra, classically trained since age eight (he was born in 1963) and tutored in the creative hothouse of a Caribbean capitol during the flowering of lrakere under the stewardship of Fidel, The Blessing is the hoped·for product of synthesized genetic and social forces, the graceful result of interwoven nature and nurture. If music of this high an order can only be made by three minds in noble collaboration, the utmost sensitivity to touch and nuances of interplay raised to the third power, The Blessing ranks among the finest examples of a genre that embraces the equilateral trios headed by pianists Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett no less than Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Tatum, Ellington, Basie and Monk. If passionate, contemplative and committed romance is in order, The Blessing is the perfect score. From the opening “Circuito” to the finale “Mima”-two of Gonzalo’s rhapsodic compositions-through Haden’s portrait of the Nicaraguan patriot “Sandino,” Ornette Coleman’s lyrically jaunty “The Blessing,” Jack DeJohnette’s haunting “Silver Hollow,” Rubalcaba’s intensely personal themes “Sinpunto y Contracopa” (pointless and contrary?) and “Sin remedio, el mar” (the inevitable sea), the classic Latin ballad “Besame Mucho” (kiss me lots) and Trane’s “Giant Steps,” which incredibly he makes his own, the pianist simply froths, his freedom of sense and sensuality spilling over. As DeJohnette reinforces and accentuates the subtle structures and Haden provides a rock solid basis upon which to found sweeping harmonic adventures, Rubalcaba allows emotional credibility to overwhelm technical prowess. Both his integrity and his skill are impossible to fake, and at levels daunting to imitate. Of the dozen or so fine, diversely accomplished young pianists who’ve emerged in the ’80s-after a period during which the acoustic instrument suffered neglect in favor of electronic keyboards, despite breakthroughs by several eminent underground players Gonzalo is suddenly a major figure. That he is hamstrung by U.S. Immigration and State Department restrictions on performing in America or even engaging in profitable activity directly with U.S. firms does not prevent him from appealing to American ears. The hint of montuno occasionally breaking through his improvisations is as familiar to jazz as the Latin tinge Jelly Roll Morton cited in New Orleans’ music. There is no way to keep such communicative music from spreading to those who want and need it. Similarly, whoever tries to contain or hoard such splendid blossomings of imagination and creativity threatens to waste the precious emanations by allowing their source to dry up. However, Gonzalo Rubalcaba does not seem in danger of any government’s suppression. His music is a model of a Cuban national’s art for all the world to admire. His fingers sing not of a political program, but of a human soul’s perceptions and expressions. That his connections with Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette (and Paul Motian and Chico Hamilton and Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he’s jammed) flow so effortlessly, without contrivance or even very much rehearsal, speaks volumes about the commonality of mankind. That Gonzalo has absorbed so much of contemporary America’s jazz culture also attests to the failure of artificial borders to restrain the natural passage of feeling and thought. Deep and fundamental beauty is the unexpected but welcomed hallmark of Gonzalo’s music. Neither his earlier recordings on the Cuban Engrem and the German Messidor labels, nor concerts with his fusion group Projecto quite foreshadowed the achievements herein. Perhaps the company he’s kept inspired him; if so, may the pianist always find collaborators as stimulating, alert and empathetic as Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette (that in itself will be hard). Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s future is unpredictable, but his promise now is certain. His music offers true balm and insight to whoever turns to it. He’s blessed, and this album is a blessing. Of that there’s no disguise.

-Howard Mandel

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