Archive for the ‘Fé’ Category

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba “Maferefun” Live a Vienne 2012

@Critical Jazz Sunday, September 18, 2011 Review by Brent Black

The zen quality of less is more has never been more fitting or at times displayed in a more beautiful and simplistic fashion than with the “Fe…Faith” 

An editor recently expressed an understandable concern over the use of the phrase “no good jazz is worth listening to on an ipod” The concern understandably rooted in the possible alienation of a certain segment of readers as well as giving the critic the appearance of being a “fuddy-duddy.”

Let’s face it, you don’t drink fine wine from a Dixie cup and you don’t listen to John Coltrane on 8-track.

Genius reviews itself…

Captivating, intriguing, almost addictive this recording is subtle and intimate in approach but grand in artistic scope. The sound quality is pristine which is essential in a solo piano recording. With styles that range from the subdued if not introspective to the bold and vibrant display of his Cuban heritage, Gonzalo firmly establishes himself as a modern day master of not only his instrument but of his own destiny with such an artistic triumph. Rubalcaba has had a prodigious output of recordings, 35 to be exact and none finer than “Fe…Faith.”

Aside from original compositions and a celebration of his own musical heritage, Rubalcaba takes on improvisations based on the work of John Coltrane and his mentor Dizzy Gillespie with stellar results. Rubalcaba pays homage to Coltrane with “Improvisation 2” which kicks off with the chord changes from the master work “Giant Steps.” A Gillespie tribute is “Con Alma 1″ which opens with a dark almost brooding feel before moving to a more thoughtful melodic approach played in the middle register.

An incredibly personal work drawn from Rubalcaba’s wealth of musical knowledge and expression and a sincere desire to transcend the self imposed sonic barriers that separate jazz, classical and more popular styles, Rubalcaba bears his musical soul and with astonishing results.

The label here ( 5Passion ) is as much the story as the release as Rubalcaba states with great pride, ” It is my vision that 5Passion will one day be known as a record label affording artists a friendly environment in which to record their visionary music, without compromising their integrity for commercial consideration and constraining them from realizing their potential in all aspects of their professional lives.”

This statement alone can stand as the perfect review of this release.
Grand texture and a bold sonic color palette gives “Fe…Faith” a musical richness seldom heard today.

Artistic genius at its very best. A modern day Monk? Maybe…One of the finest releases of the year? No doubt!

July Issue of Jazz Japan by Kawade Shobo Shinsha


Kawade Shobo Shinsha

Jazz Tokyo


Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Fe (5Pasion) By Fernando Gonzalez

The brittle condition of record labels (and not only jazz labels), has nudged artists into a do-it-yourself approach, and why not?. Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba has launched his own label, 5Pasion. Its first release is Rubalcaba’s  (Faith), a challenging solo piano recording including both originals and standards. This is no conventional, toe-tapping fare. Historically, in Rubalcaba’s approach elements of jazz, classical, (Cuban) traditional and popular music, have informed his playing and writing. In , Rubalcaba blurs the lines once more, while taking a decidedly exploratory approach. He deconstructs “Blue in Green,” (twice), and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” (three times), and uses the harmonic structure of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” as the basis for his own “Improvisation 1” and “Improvisation 2.” These pieces, and his own, play out as starting points from where he launches examinations of textures, space, counterpoint, melodic variations and more. It’s a work that suggests and demands, appropriately, a leap of Faith.


NewsTime- JAZZAHOLIC- “SIX OF THE BEST” – CD REVIEWS By Don Albert Thursday, August 04, 2011

Excerpt …For full article please visit  Jazzaholic

Fé … Faith from Gonzalo Rubalcaba, on which he has also been blessed with a wonderful piano sound on this, his first recording on his own label, 5Passion. In his faith for the Creator Rubalcaba goes into dark passages looking deep into his soul. The introverted passages are brightened by his crystalline single finger runs, making each note sparkle like stars coming out at night. At times he shifts through improvisations based on Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, Miles ”Blue in Green” and Gillespie’s “Con Alma”. It’s demanding listening, and that‘s what you have to do to reap the rewards of this album.

From “Breath of Life” by Kalamu ya Salaam

Visit Kalamu ya Salaam


There are quiet places inside of all of us. Many of us are afraid of those spaces. Afraid of the thoughts we think when we are still and silent for extended stays when we are our own and only accomplice. Afraid too of what we feel when we are feeling all that is us, all that is the interior, the insides of whoever we are.

Do you know yourself? Are you comfortable with who you are? Could you spend hours alone and not go crazy, not reach for you phone, run to your car to go somewhere, grab some munchies to keep from concentrating on the inner hunger that impels you to put something inside of your mouth, a gag to keep from gagging on your own guts.

Most of us don’t meditate, don’t dare approach, not to mention actually cross, our personal mountains whose rough terrain, abyss-like cliffs, and rarified higher heights take strength and endurance to literally overcome, cross over to our other sides, the others inside us.

If you are ready, Gonzalo will spirit you there.

I hesitate to simply call this music, or jazz, or even solo piano. On one level that is certainly what this is, but on another level this is no mere elevator or escalator mechanically moving us about, this is journeying on another level taking us deep into the tips of ourselves, the pits of ourselves—alter as in the Latin alter = high or deep, depending on how it is used.

Really this is spirit fuel assisting your flight into the who of you, the what of you, all the memory, reactions, envisionings, thoughts and feelings, many of which are far, far beyond just whatever happens to be here and now. Each of our DNAs carry ancestor songs, whisperings, some strong, some weak, barely there, but there, always influencing every future movement, meaning.

We never leave who we are even if we become someone else. We just have added another layer, a different variation, a new vibration to the human chain that each of us is and extends. If we spawn no children, the specific chain stops with us but even so in how we have interacted with others we have passed on some of ourselves beyond ourselves.

We talk glibly about eternal soul, about heaven and that other place, don’t wait until you die to think you will discover who you are. You won’t discover anything more than you discovered when you were alive. Now is the time to go into the self.

The ancient inscription said: know thyself.

These sounds that Gonzalo produces are physical in the sense that he strikes levers that move hammers against taunt strings. He knows how to time the strikes, how to coordinate the strikes. The dynamics of the strikes; how hard to hit, how soft to caress. The sensitivity to create all of this on the fly guided by his own inner spirit is his awesome artistry.

Sometimes, like with “Imagine,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” or “Con Alma”part of what Gonzalo does will be melodies and harmonic fragments that are familiar, but a lot of this is nuevo (i.e. new), a newness that comes up as he dips his piano bucket into the well of his own being. In this case his waters include portraits of his three children: Joan, Joao, and Yolanda.

If you have an undisturbed space and time where/when you can experience these sounds you will be rewarded with a glimpse of your emotional innards, the life pictures on the walls of your personality, exhibits that most of us seldom consciously consider. Through the fog of our judgments about what we feel about what we have experienced and about what we are, through this thicket of contradictions, revulsions, obsessions, social mal/adjustments, settlements and accommodations, little and large lies, as well as deep and sometimes starling truths, all of this will blink like a far off lighthouse in the night fog, a light calling us home, showing us the way to the harbor of our actual selves.

Can we cross the danger waters, navigate through the social swamps? Can we, are we willing to journey to the self, are we willing to embrace the self? The deepest beauty of jazz is that it is a genre that consciously and constantly pushes the artist and the listener to go naked, strip down and reveal the self for whoever, whatever that self may be. You will know when you are looking at your true self, even if you initially refuse to recognize yourself, even as you ask that eternal question that life conditions occasionally impel even the most stoic of us to utter: is this me? Is this me saying what I am saying, doing what I am doing, thinking what I am thinking, feeling… is “this” (whatever “this happens to be), is this me?

Look closer. Listen harder.

Spend time with yourself.

Gonzalo’s music can provide hours and hours of indescribable insights. Be gentle with these moments. Do not rush. Only the slow, only those who take time, will know all that there is to know about the person trying to do the knowing. No matter what we think about, it is still us thinking and therefore in the process of discovery it is us that ultimately matters most. Who we are is way, way before and far, far beyond what we think.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Cuban pianist, Havana born. 1963. Has made a bunch of recordings, won Grammy awards. Known as a daunting technician, able to play faster than most people can think. Full of rhythms, encyclopedic in his knowledge of harmonies, endless in his melodic inventions. Master of standards, shaman of folkloric music, original both as a composer and an interpreter. Everything he is and has been has come together in a masterful recording that indicates not just where Gonzalo is at, but indeed points towards where he is headed.

(Faith) is the first release on 5Passion, the record label Gonzalo has started.

It is my great pleasure to announce the formation of my very own record label, 5Passion. As we charge into the future, technology continues to evolve… and in many cases, continues to democratize many of the processes of major industries once reserved only for those with significant capital. These days, owning your own world-class studio and distributing your work in the virtual world is a very real and attractive possibility. These developments are “music to my ears,” as the opportunity to produce and distribute lots of great music and video with only the quality of the product in mind is at hand.
—Gonzalo Rubalcaba

is an exquisitely recorded solo outing. Rather than play a bunch of standards or even undertake a presentation of originals, this is more like a personal recital, literally a sonic stream of sub/consciousness during which he just plays. And plays, and plays. Songs come out sometimes in fragments that coalesce at the end, others are ideas formally developed. The interpretations of songs by others is idiosyncratic and mind altering, often out of tempo ruminations.

When I first heard  I was a bit put off, wanting to hear more of the Gonzalo magic I knew he could do with songs I already knew. But  is another kind of magic. This is the music that takes you to places you might not know that you actually know, i.e. places inside yourself consisting of all the places you’ve been, physical places, emotional places, imaginary places, all the places.

I should not have been surprised, Gonzalo has done this before. “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Night Fall,” and “Beseme Mucho” are taken from his early 1997 album Solo and the reveal a similar approach.

These solo performances are only one facet of the jewel of Gonzalo’s artistry but this is a facet of invaluable and resplendent quality. Ashe Gonzalo. Giving thanks. Enjoy.

—Kalamu ya Salaam


Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s Intimate and Engaging Solo Album “Faith” by Grego Applegate Edwards

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s Intimate and Engaging Solo Album “Faith”

Anyone who has followed the career of Cuba’s pianistic dynamo Gonzalo Rubalcaba no doubt has some favorite recordings they especially like of his. Since his wider exposure as an artist to the world there have been many very good and some great ones. But to my knowledge there has been nothing that compares with his recent CD Faith (5 Pasion).

It’s solo piano all the way. It is a very intimate performance. You feel like you have dropped in on Rubalcaba at his home as he is in the middle of an inspired performance with no thought of an audience. It’s almost as if he is playing for himself, expressing something rather deep and almost private. He engages jazz classics, his own pieces and sheer improvisations, passages inspired by John Coltrane and some attention to his Cuban roots, though in a more abstracted way than was typically the case in some of his earlier work. The sheer liberation of a solo performance and his increasing artistic maturity bring out a side of Rubalcaba not as often seen in his recorded opus. That is, a Rubalcaba that uses his tremendous inventive facility and imagination to search within himself, so to speak.

This is a Rubalcaba that engaes the whole of his musical experience and transforms it into his personal impression of what it all means. A summing up. The title Faith is not some catchy marketing sort of thing. Because the theme as Gonzalo states in the liner notes is a kind of exploration of how people of whatever religious or belief-system persuasion rely upon their faith to get them through difficult times.

It is a very moving performance, a remarkable piece of pianism, a heart-felt searching into musical tone as an expression of something much larger than our petty everyday concerns. Beautiful!

posted by grego applegate edwards


The Spiritual Journey of Gonzalo Rubalcaba Jazziz July 2011 Digital Edition Story by Bob Weinberg

Faith and Passion….
Cuban exile Gonzalo Rubalcaba forges ahead with a new album and label
By Bob Weinberg

Several years ago, Gonzalo Rubalcaba was touring Europe with his Cuban quintet. After a concert at the New Morning jazz club in Paris, the pianist and some of his bandmates repaired to a nearby restaurant for dinner. At some point, Rubalcaba became aware that a diner at another table was watching him. Finally, the man approached Rubalcaba and, in no uncertain terms, told him what he thought of his performance that evening, “You should play more of the music that represents you,” the would-be critic, also Latin American, admonished, “You’re trying to be an intellectual, like Keith Jarrett or McCoy Tyner, and you’re totally wrong,” “He made a huge statement about that,” says Rubalcaba, relating the event in May – just a few days before his 48th birthday – over dinner at YOLO, a trendy bar-restaurant on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, “Then I understood.  The problem is that sometimes we, as Latin people, believe that [people from] other countries see us as minimal. It’s not the whole truth, The truth is splintered between how other countries see us and how we see ourselves,” Certainly, Rubalcaba’s most-recent recording – a gorgeous, heartfelt solo-piano meditation titled Fe (Faith) – won’t quiet critics who believe Latin jazz artists should play only danceable party music. After a long, successful run on Blue Note, and its Japanese affiliates EMI-Toshiba/Somethin’ Else, the pianist has newfound freedom to play what he chooses – he’s now releasing his recordings on his own 5Passion imprint. Pronounced “cinco pasion,” the label puns on the word syncopation, Rubalcaba’s business partner – and Fe’s executive producer – Gary Galimidi, is also on hand this night at YOLO.  A Cuban who grew up in Miami, Galimidi translates into English some of Rubalcaba’s more complex thoughts, which the pianist feels more comfortable relating in Spanish.  After some 15 years living in South Florida, Rubalcaba has a decent command of English, but he wants to be sure he’s completely understood, something that’s never an issue when he speaks through his music. Unshackled from the constraints of corporate bean counters, Rubalcaba has released a 79-minute recording of unaccompanied piano music. He improvises on selections from Coltrane to Caturla and composes his own highly personal musical expressions about faith and spirituality. Rich and complex, the music evokes AfroCuban roots as well as the modern-jazz idiom, even as it bespeaks Rubalcaba’s rigorous classical training. While he’s recorded without backup musicians before – notably, 2006’s Latin Grammy winning Solo on Blue Note -the pianist seems to be making a statement: He won’t remain confined by anyone’s claims on his identity, be they label execs, audience members or those who would use him to further their own political or cultural agendas.

Rubalcaba has wrestled with perceptions throughout his remarkable career. When the Cuban native first performed at Miami’s Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in 1996, members of the exile community vehemently protested, spitting at concertgoers, pelting them with bottles and literally beating them over the head with a Cuban flag.  Expatriate Cuban jazz stars such as Paquito d’Rivera publicly scolded the pianist for not being a more vocal critic of the Cuban government. While Rubalcaba had since moved to the Dominican Republic – before relocating to South Florida – his mother and father still lived on the island under the watchful eyes of the Castro regime. Understandably, he feared for their safety.  A resident of the sprawling suburban community of Coral Springs, where he’s raised three kids a county away from the madness of Miami-Dade’s exile inferno, Rubalcaba says the controversy has long since subsided. He performs infrequently in South Florida, and when he has appeared, protesters have not. “I haven’t seen any manifestations of that since that [first performance],” he says, mentioning trouble-free concerts at the now-defunct Hollywood Jazz Festival, the newly minted Arsht Center in downtown Miami and a CD-release/label-launch party this spring in Homestead.  As one who’s felt the boot of the Castro regime on his neck, Rubalcaba fully understands the anger of the exiles, many of whom lost everything, not the least of which was their homeland.  And yet, while he detests the oppression of the Cuban government, Rubalcaba points out that he truly developed as an artist on the island, “One of my best periods of creativity and energy was living inside Cuba,” he says, “Nothing is black and white, There’s always been this effort to paint everything very dark ‘” but things have nuance.” Understandably, Rubalcaba was shy about approaching the piano as a very young child. His father, the multi-instrumentalist Guilhermos Rubalcaba, was something of a legend, having held the piano chair in Enrique Torrin’s Orchestra, Jam sessions featuring his father’s superstar friends – Frank Emilio, Barbarito Diez, Tata Güines, and a pre-Los Van Van Juan Formell, among numerous others – took place regularly at the house. Then, there was his brother Jesus, eight years Gonzalo’s senior and a dazzling talent, whose daily practice routine included pieces by Liszt, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. Rubalcaba decided maybe he’d rather play drums, “The piano, for me, was for people with really amazing control of the two sides of their brain,” he says, “When I was a little kid, I asked my brother, ‘How can you read two thoughts at the same time?’  So, for me, drums, Afro-Cuban percussion, was really my pursuit.” As fate would have it, Rubalcaba’s dreams of becoming the next Chano Pozo were dashed when he was told by his instructors at the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory that, at age 8, he was still too young to study percussion. They suggested he choose piano or violin. His mother swayed him toward the former, and after about two years, the 10-year-old Rubalcaba was hopelessly smitten -with the piano and with his teacher. “She was an amazing woman,” he rhapsodizes over the memory of Teresa Valiente.  “A beautiful woman, She had that ability to make people fall in love with the instrument. She had the tools to seduce you.” Many of the advisors at the conservatory at that time hailed from Eastern bloc countries such as Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Rubalcaba estimates about 60 percent came from the Soviet Union, whose technically and intellectually demanding methodology dominated the curriculum. Counterpoint, harmony, theory and solfeggio training were all part of the regimen. Another part of his training, no doubt, would have infuriated the Soviets. Officially, rock-and-roll was deemed “the music of the enemy” and impossible to hear on sanctioned airwaves. But, like many Cuban youths, Rubalcaba and his buddies would secretly tune in to “la voz de las Americas” – American radio. He remembers “American Woman” by The Guess Who as a particularly popular selection. Jazzy, horn-fueled bands such as Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago, The Ohio Players and especially Earth, Wind and Fire also caught his ear. All these influences, plus his plundering of Dad’s collection of 78s – including sides by everyone from Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to Erroll Garner and Art Tatum combined to form a distinctive aesthetic, a sophisticated mix of indigenous Cuban and Latin styles with bebop, modern-jazz and fusion elements. Rubalcaba became exposed to more modern players, such as Keith Jarrett, through a Cuban radio program hosted by the father of percussion great Horacio “EI Negro” Hernandez. This expanded his horizons even further, as did a regular Sunday concert series held at the National Amphitheater in Havana. The series provided a showcase for complex new music by composers from Cuba, South America and Europe. By the early ’80s, while continuing his studies at the Instituto Superior de Arte, Rubalcaba was starting to gain attention as an artist outside the borders of the island nation. He had toured Africa and Europe with Orquesta Aragon, a Cuban musical institution that goes back to the 1930s. While they were greeted warmly – particularly in Congo and Zaire, where the pianist says audiences sang along with tunes from the group’s archival recordings – Rubalcaba would gain greater acclaim for playing his own music. In 1986, Gotz Worner, head ofthe German-based Messidor label, heard Rubalcaba perform with his seven-piece Grupo Proyecto at a festival held in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Havana, the results of which were recorded by the Cuban Egrem label Worner bought the rights to the recording, which he subsequently mixed and released on two LPs (Regreso Feliz, vols. 1 and 2, later released on CD as Live in Havana). The album created a buzz in Germany, and Rubalcaba was invited to tour the country. Another album for Messidor followed, Mi Gran Pasion, which highlighted the popular Cuban danz6n, a musical style with which not many Europeans were acquainted. Worner was undaunted. “He was really open-minded:’ Rubalcaba says of the label chief. “He decided to run that risk to do that recording. When I proposed the album, he said, ‘Let’s go.”’

Rubalcaba’s fortunes truly soared thanks to a couple of Jazz legends that recognized his brilliance right away.

While staying at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Dizzy Gillespie wandered into the bar and heard Rubalcaba performing with his band. After the set, Gillespie invited the young pianist to join him and his big band the next day during their set at the 1985 Jazz Plaza Festival. He even proposed the pair perform a duet. When Diz asked Rubalcaba what they should play together, the young pianist answered immediately: “Con Alma.” Just the week before, he had discovered the song in a borrowed fake book, a precious commodity in Cuba. Following the performance, Gillespie declared Rubalcaba the best pianist he’d heard in 10 years. “I fell in love with the tune:’ Rubalcaba says of “Can Alma:’ which he’s recorded several times, including on Fe. “The name was in Spanish, and I saw the composer was Dizzy Gillespie. A week later, I met him.” Gillespie made arrangements to bring Rubalcaba to New York and present him at a Latin jazz festival in Central Park, but politics reared its ugly head. Rubalcaba’s request for a visa was rejected by the U.S. government. “Diz was really upset,” Rubalcaba remembers. “He wrote a letter that was published in The New York Times talking about how at this point, in this century, we still have these problems. We’re talking about a guy who’s 20-something years old, who loves American music.” Fortunately, Rubalcaba was able to capitalize on another fateful meeting with a jazz heavyweight. Thunderstruck by Rubalcaba’s talent, Charlie Haden, like Gillespie, immediately proffered an invitation to the pianist after hearing him play at the Jazz Plaza Fest in 1986. In the liners to Live in Havana, the bassist enthuses about Rubalcaba’s “unbelievable touch and command of the lower register…. The way he uses the bass of the piano reminds one of the way Rachmaninoff uses basses in an orchestra.” The very next day, Haden brought Rubalcaba to the famed Egrem studios, also in Havana, to record. The results must have been impressive. A few years later, Haden brought a cassette of the session to Blue Note Records chief Bruce Lundvall, who was inspired enough to travel to Cuba to sign Rubalcaba in 1990. Once again, politics intervened, as U.S. policy wouldn’t allow an American company to do business with a Cuban artist. Their solution? Have Rubalcaba sign with Blue Note’s partner in Japan, EMI, and allow them to introduce his music in the United States. A concert with Haden and drummer Paul Motian was arranged for the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1990, as a way for EMI execs to evaluate Rubalcaba. Needless to say, they liked what they heard. An album of the Montreux concert, Discovery, was released. Rubalcaba had played with this dream rhythm team before, in Canada, which is far friendlier to Cuban artists than is the United States. So, when he was given the chance to select his bandmates for the concert in Montreux, Rubalcaba requested Haden and Motian. “At that moment, I felt a lot of pressure,” admits the pianist, who has since performed with Jack DeJohnette, Ron Carter, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, among many other jazz greats. “You feel like you have to be at the level of expectations. You have to complywith the ideas they have about you, and you feel it when they look at you. But it’s part ofthe respect. You feel that because you are respected by those people, and the history behind those people, and the history they represent. It’s a blessing. It’s a major compliment.”

Eventually, when the political rhetoric had cooled down and Rubalcaba was no longer living  in Cuba, he officially joined the storied ranks of Blue Note.

A string of critically and commercially successful albums ensued, starting auspiciously with 1991’s The Blessing, a trio recording with Haden and DeJohnette. His first U.S. concert took place at Lincoln Center in 1993, which opened the way to more Stateside bookings and international stardom. Along the way, he also participated on a couple of Haden’s high profile projects: 2001’s Grammy-winning Nocturne (Best Latin Jazz Performance) and 2004’s Land of the Sun, both for Verve. Rubalcaba played an essential role on both recordings. He helped Haden assemble the multicultural ensemble for Nocturne – including his good friend, Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa, Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez and South Florida-based Uruguayan violinist Federico Britos – and introduced the bassist to Mexican and Cuban boleros sung by Pablo Milanes. Rubalcaba reprised his role as arranger on Land ofthe Sun, and scored another Grammy. On albums such as 1999’s Inner Voyage and 2001’s Latin Grammy winning Supernova, Rubalcaba was given sparkling showcases for his extremely personal, genre-defying style. On the former, he included a track titled “Blues Lundvall,” a tribute to the Blue Note mogul who had played such an important role in his career. While he truly appreciates the enormous boost the venerable label provided, the pianist says he started to chafe at what he perceived to be commercial constraints, particularly as they related to expressing his Latin identity. “When I joined EMI, the Japanese loved what I was doing before,” he explains. “So they asked me to keep doing what I was doing. When I jumped from EMI to Blue Note, things changed a little. Bruce and the people around Blue Note believed that I should do an American repertoire and I started to play American music.” This was reflected on 2008’s Avatar; Rubalcaba’s last record for Blue Note. Utilizing a sextet including the Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry and New York drummer Marcus Gilmore, Rubalcaba dived into straight-ahead waters, with nods to hard-bop and funky, neo-trad NewYork-style jazz, which alternated with his quieter, more thoughtful ruminations. The album went to No. 11 on the Billboard charts, but Rubalcaba says he felt somewhat compromised. Now recording for his own sPassion imprint, the pianist can present himself the way he feels is right. That includes his own way of exploring his Latin roots, affording them the respect and dignity he believes they deserve. “It’s basically festive, happy music,” he allows. “But there’s another side.” Rubalcaba plans to follow Fe with a trio recording that will include Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke and Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez. Rubalcaba had introduced Loueke to Haden, when the bassist was seeking a distinctive guitar sound for Land of the Sun. He’s been looking for an excuse to work with Loueke ever since. He’s also been badgering Berroa for years to put together a group and material for a recording session under his own name. The drummer finally consented, and will also release an album for 5Passion. Agreeing that there have been some fairly remarkable developments in Cuba as of late – Castro-critical blogger Yoani Sanchez and the demonstrators Las Damas en Blanca would have been unthinkable a decade ago, as would certain economic reforms – Rubalcaba is cautiously optimistic about real change on the island. It’s ongoing, he says, but slow. Progress will always be impeded by the old men who don’t want to relinquish power. But freedom, as a citizen or as an artist, is the only way for people to advance, he says, even if there’s a price to be paid for swimming against the mainstream. “I think it’s very important to do everything possible to keep developing yourself,” Rubalcaba states. “When you do that, sometimes you have to renounce what the majority of the people want from you, in order to go where you think you need to go.” …


Side Bar

The Shortest Concert I Ever Did

Searching for nonstandard material to record, Charlie Haden turned to his good friend Gonzalo Rubalcaba. At Haden’s request, Rubalcaba compiled boleros by Cuban singer Pablo Milanes and sent a recording to the bassist. A few days later, Rubalcaba remembers, Haden called him and said, “We gotta record that.” The results can be heard on Haden’s 2001 Grammy winning album, Nocturne. A selection of Cuban and Mexican boleros are delicately interpreted by the bassist and pianist along with saxophonists Joe Lovano and David Sanchez, guitarist Pat Metheny, violinist Federico Britos and drummer Ignacio Berroa. Naturally, playing this hushed, often-sublime music live would require careful vetting of venues and audiences. So, someone screwed up big-time when the group was booked to perform at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami during an outdoor music festival in the fall of 2001. Haden, Rubalcaba, Sanchez, Britos and Berroa went on as scheduled, but the blare from a salsa band on a competing stage drowned out their quiet, meditative music. Midway through the first song, a disgusted Haden walked off. “It was the shortest concert Iever did; Rubalcaba says, laughing at the memory. “Ignacio started cracking up. It was about three minutes on stage. Three minutes! I know Charlie and I knew that wasn’t the accurate place to do that kind of concert orthat kind of music. The band got paid anyway.” Fortunately, the group had another opportunity to present this sophisticated music to South Florida audiences when they played to a full house at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in 2002. This time, Haden made sure the sound was pristine, “the best I’ve heard at a South Florida jazz concert,” raved Sun-Sentinel arts writer Matt Schudel. By all accounts, the show was a huge hit with the audience, who rewarded the musicians with a thundering ovation. “I was really happy to see that; Rubalcaba says. “It was a moment to show people how flexible [Latin] music is.” – BW





Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Fé…Faith By Bill Donaldson

Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Fé…Faith By Bill Donaldson


By Bill Donaldson

More often than not, jazz musicians move from youthful irreverence to spirituality as they mature. Examples abound, from Dizzy Gillespie to John Patitucci, from Duke Ellington to Wayne Shorter, from Randy Weston to Pete Malinverni, from Mary Lou Williams to Cyrus Chestnut. The fact that jazz can accommodate profound personal growth throughout a lifetime is a testament to its mutability and its spiritual permanence. Now, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, whom many, with reason, associate with musical exuberance and technical exploration, has infused his latest album, Fé…Faith, with meditation, reflection and wonder about beauty and religious belief. Coincidentally, Fé…Faith, which respects worshippers of all faiths, commences a series of planned recordings on Rubalcaba’s own new label, 5Passion.

Fé…Faith is a solo project with no back-up of bass and drums or any other instruments but the piano to speak the melody. That’s not to say that the effects of other instruments are absent, for Rubalcaba recalls batá drums on “Maferefun Iya Lodde Me,” and he orchestrally uses counterpoint with effective results for interwoven richness on “Oro.” Of course, this isn’t Rubablcaba’s first unaccompanied album, for Solo on Blue Note prepared listeners for his explorations on Fé…Faith.

As the listener progresses through Fé…Faith, it becomes apparent that this first composition, “Maferefun Iya Lodde Me,” sets up the feeling for the entire album in more ways than one. For it serves as a centerpiece for fragmented improvisation on other tracks, which feature brief melodic references to it. Plus, “Maferefun Iya Lodde Me” reveals Rubalcaba’s previously not-as-evident affinity for Bill Evans’ use of space and modality. As if such hints weren’t sufficient, Rubalcaba not once, but twice, freely improvises on “Blue in Green,” which Rubalcaba calls “an amazing piece of music.” It is. However, Rubalcaba’s reverent solemnity present in interpreting “Blue in Green” strikingly contrasts with Evans’ almost jubilant swing when he plays the same song with Toots Thielemans on Evans’ Sesjun Radio Shows recording. How ingenious that the first two-note chord of “Blue in Green” is so familiar in any context, evoking its contemplative mood from the start.

As for “Maferefun Iya Lodde Me,” Rubalcaba considers elements of the song in fragments of wonder. “Derivado 1” opens Fé…Faith with but chimes drawn from that longer piece. Rubalcaba’s use of the sustain pedal during “Derivado 1’s” four-note performance reinforces his reputation for careful attention to touch as he strikes the next chord as its predecessor decays.

Rubalcaba too evokes the spirit of Dizzy Gillespie, who first performed with him in 1985 at the Havana Jazz Plaza Festival when Rubalcaba was twenty. “Con Alma,” appropriately translated as “with soul,” appears twice on Fé…Faith as solo meditations upon the experiences associated with the song and the trumpeter. Rubalcaba sets up a rumbling vamp for “Con Alma 1” before it slows into rumination alternating between single-note melody and left-hand single-note interwoven harmony with shifting block chords.

A project of the heart, Fé…Faith includes a connected sequence of musical impressions of Rubalcaba’s three children. Despite the presence of Michael Brecker, Jeff Chambers and Ignacio Berroa on the other tracks, we’ve heard his unaccompanied musical descriptions of his children before on Inner Voyage. How unforgettable is that to have songs created to express a father’s impressions of each child? Now Rubalcaba has updated his interpretations of their personalities matured in the intervening twelve years. There’s “Joan,” depicting Rubalcaba’s son with its primary singable theme offset by staccato bass notes leading into rubato discursive improvisation. Then there’s “Joao,” of darker chords and exposition in the piano’s close middle range, rather than on “Joan’s” higher treble keys. And there’s “Yolanda Anas,” whom Rubalcaba describes as “coquettish, cheerful, mischievous, imposing, loving and rebellious,” and the initial key-changing lullaby, though she’s now fifteen, evolves into thoughtful variations on the theme with rippling effect and reharmonized gentleness.

Even though Blue Note Records no longer releases Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s recordings, he now is in more control of his destiny as he founds his own label and records his initial recording with delicacy and sparseness that belie his prodigious technical prowess. Instead, Rubalcaba looks inward during another inner voyage as he searches for spiritual inspiration and then lets it flow into an album named Fé…Faith.


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