Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category



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

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

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

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

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

Rubalcaba could be describing his own work ethic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It made him a more complete musician.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entrevista al pianista cubano Gonzalo Rubalcaba con motivo de su concierto en el Espacio Cultural CajaCanarias

Gonzalo Rubalcaba – By Philip Klint Thursday, November 24, 2016 at 07:30 AM EST Time Warner Cable Noticias NY1

Jazz di Cuba a Sacile con il quartetto di Rubalcaba Stasera, allo “Zancanaro” di Sacile, il pianista si esibisce insieme a Gola, Hernandez e Hidalgo

Gianfranco Terzoli


SACILE. Quattro leggende del latin jazz per la prima volta insieme sullo stesso palco. Quello del Teatro Zancanaro, dove stasera alle 21 per “Il Volo del Jazz” si esibirà un quartetto che promette un’eruzione di suoni latini. Non per niente si chiama Volcan il progetto dei cubani Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Armando Gola e Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez e del portoricano Giovanni Hidalgo, musicisti che singolarmente hanno suonato con gente come Santana, Paul Simon e Art Blakey e che messi insieme hanno pubblicato oltre 150 album.

Quattro personalità così possono coabitare perché – riferisce Rubalcaba – hanno capito la necessità e l’importanza della convivenza: ci guadagna la musica e quindi lo spirito. «La nostra – dice il pianista, quindici nomination e due vittorie ai Grammy – è una band formata da amici e compagni di una carriera lunga quasi 30 anni. Nell’84 ho chiamato Hernandez (batterista vincitore di cinque Grammy, uno per “Supernatural” di Santana) perché mi aiutasse a dar vita, insieme ad altri giovani talenti, all’idea di una band che aggiungesse qualcosa alla già ricca scena musicale cubana di allora. Io e Hidalgo (percussionista vincitore di due Grammy di cui uno con Arturo Sandoval e al fianco di Dizzy Gillespie e Art Blakey) ci siamo conosciuti al Festival di Varadero: avevamo solo 17 anni e da allora abbiamo collaborato a vari concerti e progetti discografici: tra questi mi sta particolarmente a cuore “Antiguo”. Gola (bassista chen vanta due Grammy e ha suonato pure con Jennifer Lopez) fa parte di una generazione giunta negli Stati Uniti a metà anni ’90 ed è stato nel mio secondo “Quartetto cubano”. Tre anni fa – prosegue – durante una registrazione a Miami con Stefan Glass, Hidalgo ci propose un progetto comune. Propose anche il nome, “Volcan”. Con esso cerchiamo di creare un repertorio che non serva solo per mostrare le nostre capacità individuali, ma tenti pure di riconoscere il lavoro di grandi artisti dell’emisfero americano».

Volcan esplora in veste inedita composizioni originali di Rubalcaba e rivisita classici di Dizzy Gillespie, Chuco Valdès e dei brasiliani João Bosco e Chico Buarque. «Il processo di evoluzione e crescita della musica brasiliana e cubana – rileva – è stato parallelo. Entrambe le culture hanno elementi simili (religiosi, ritmici, letterari) oltre a una reciproca ammirazione. Abbracciamo questa musica con profondo rispetto». «A Sacile – riprende – interpreteremo contenuti del primo cd, versioni di alcuni classici cubani e un pezzo risalente al mio primo periodo compositivo (1984) con il gruppo “Proyecto”. Il rapporto col nostro paese è ottimo. «Dall’89 ho avuto il privilegio di suonare in Italia praticamente in ogni tour europeo. Il pubblico italiano, oltre che estremamente sensibile e gentile, è molto vario».

 Rubalcaba ha suonato con Al Di Meola e Charlie Haden. «L’interesse per la musica, per sviluppare idee e mantenerle al più alto livello – spiega – rende possibile l’unione e l’apprendimento, l’amicizia, l’impegno emozionale e professionale»..

Gianfranco Terzoli

“Diversidad” latinoamericana en Latin Jazz


Gonzalo Rubalcaba foto by Rene Hernandez














Por Alicia Rinaldi BUENOS AIRES, 26 (ANSA) –

América Latina vive una “etapa de redefinición de la pianística”, todavía “muy controlada por códigos europeos”, pero en los jóvenes existe una creación “sin temor” a sumar la “esencia popular”, afirmó el reconocido músico cubano Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
    El compositor y virtuoso exponente del Latin Jazz, de 52 años, dialogó con ANSA, antes de protagonizar el “bello reto” de tocar temas de su último disco, “Fe”, en el Festival Internacional Piano Piano, con intérpretes de diferentes géneros, en curso en el Centro Cultural Néstor Kirchner.
    “Es necesario este tipo de encuentros porque por años lo que se ha buscado es establecer muros entre géneros más que puentes: que si lo popular, lo folclórico o lo clásico. Y esto es una posibilidad real de vincular artistas de diferentes nacionalidades y generaciones con una historia contrastante”, afirmó Rubalcaba.
    Galardonado con dos Grammy por sus discos Supernova (2002) y Solo (2006), sostuvo que Latinoamérica vive “una etapa de redefinición de la pianística, todavía muy controlada por códigos estéticos europeos”. Algo que “no es negativo” en sí mismo, pero resaltó que en la actualidad “hay artistas que entendieron que es importante desarrollar otras formas de expresión musical”.
    Rubalcaba se formó en un ambiente de músicos desde niño, en su casa de La Habana, donde estudió en el Conservatorio Manuel Saumell, percusión en el Amadeo Roldán y composición en el Instituto Superior de Arte.
    En su increíble carrera, a los 17 años Dizzie Gillespie lo escuchó al piano y lo invitó a tocar, a los 20 realizaba giras por Europa con la Orquesta Aragón cuando conoció a Charlie Haden, con quien compartió -más tarde- discos, giras y mucha experiencia.
    El músico recordó que en su época de formación el piano era considerado dentro de las “llamadas carreras largas”, con 12 años de estudio de autores europeos y muy poco margen para los cubanos.
    En la actualidad, las “nuevas generaciones ven que hay otras formas y otros códigos a involucrar en la composición, sin temor a trabajar con la esencia popular de cada país”, destacó.
    Rubalcaba, docente hace un año en la estatal Universidad de Miami, criticó la “falta de difusión de lo que no pertenece al mundo uniformado” de la música en los medios de comunicación.
    Para el artista, es parte de un “problema a nivel mundial en las escuelas” y es que existe “poco empuje en los estudiantes a que encuentren su camino” propio.
    El camino es “estudiar y conocer” a los grandes, como Jhon Coltrane, Charlie Parker o Gillespie, “pero tener las herramientas para creer en los que podemos revolucionar nosotros mismos, sin temor a no ser aceptados y a que el camino sea muy largo”, explicó.
    Se trata de “luchar contra una ola inmensa” e “inducir al niño que no debe darle miedo el sabor de lograr algo que se diferencie, con intereses propios, emocionales, culturales; no tiene precio, yo apuesto por eso”, enfatizó. En esa misma línea, “los latinoamericanos le aportaron mucha diversidad al jazz”, sostiene Rubalcaba. El músico que eligió el Latin Jazz “ha entendido la importancia de respetar el lenguaje de la tradición jazzística pero abrazar constantemente su tradición y establecido una comunión donde conviven las cosas de manera normal”, sintetizó. Extra Show Música 23/07/15 Gonzalo Rubalcaba “Busco ser irreverente”

El pianista cubano, que ganó dos Grammy y se presenta hoy en Buenos Aires, cuenta su modo de evitar el cliché.


 Virtuoso. A los 52 años, el artista vive en los Estados Unidos.

Un pianista de exuberante virtuosismo y que escapa de convencionalismos musicales. Gonzalo Rubalcaba, cubano, nacido en mayo de 1963, es uno de los pianistas esenciales en ese proceso de maridaje entre el jazz y otros géneros. Estudió piano clásico y composición, y a los 14 años comenzó en la Orquesta Aragón su carrera como músico profesional. Su relación con el trompetista Dizzy Gillespie, con quien grabó un disco, en 1986, le permitió ser reconocido como uno de los jóvenes leones del jazz.

Ganó dos Grammy en el rubro de Latin Jazz; el primero, por Supernova, en 2002 y, el segundo por Solo, en 2006. Sus discos Flying Colors, con el saxofonista Joe Lovano, y Nocturno, con el contrabajista Charlie Haden lo mostraron como un pianista pleno de renovadas ideas y de una modernidad inusualmente cálida.

En su segunda visita a Buenos Aires, Rubalcaba, hoy hará un concierto de piano solo, basado en su último disco, Fe, un tributo a Alejandro García Caturla y Amadeo Roldán, dos compositores cubanos pioneros en la música contemporánea de la isla (ver “Hoy”). “La música que interpretaré tiene como sentido el de abrazar este legado, casi olvidado, del que surge un lenguaje formado por un pianismo cubano con proyección universal”, señala este músico, que vive actualmente en Florida, en los Estados Unidos.

Durante la charla telefónica, Rubalcaba explica que su propuesta es de una permanente movilidad. “Tres de las composiciones están dedicadas a mis hijos, Joan, Joao y Yolanda, en las cuales trato de explicar los rasgos de cada uno de ellos y cómo los percibo, pero tengo en cuenta que crecen y eso provoca que estos temas también intenten crecer con ellos”.

Para el pianista, hablar de música es una forma de especular desde lo poético. “Es difícil categorizar; lo que uno expone con la música es lo que vive, desde lo emocional, lo intelectual y lo social. Diría que en los últimos quince años se ha manifestado en mí un constante explorar sonidos y climas que tienen relación con músicos de diferentes latitudes, artistas que tienen morfologías distintas, concepciones personales y forman parte de un movimiento histórico particular”, detalla.

Sobre su música, dice que “tiene una actitud movediza, dinámica y Fe no escapa a este constante explorar. Es un acercamiento diferente, solitario y un reto, que comienza con la elección del repertorio hasta conseguir una línea conceptual, una forma de conexión entre las composiciones, una unidad, pues de lo contrario se puede convertir en una letanía”.

¿No teme las distancias que puede haber entre “Con alma”, de Gillespie y “Blue In Green”, de Evans?
Ambas son composiciones importantes para mí y me permitieron mostrar la amplitud que tienen. Son temas que tienen puertas y ventanas para abrir y poder desarrollar mi propia lectura de estos clásicos. Son composiciones que proponen distintas formas de aproximarse y eso trato de dejar en evidencia en el escenario.

El músico también hace especial hincapié en el cuidado permanente que tiene para eludir los clichés. “El ser humano desde siempre tiende a entenderse con la gravedad, y entonces buscamos acomodarnos y así sentirnos cómodos. Mi música evita el lugar común, en el que es tan fácil caer y tan costoso salirse luego. No quiero decir con esto que me rebelo a estas situaciones, sino que busco ser irreverente”, explica el artista que, además, probablemente haga en su concierto algo de la música del compositor y pianista Ernesto Lecuona. “Antes tengo que llegar a Buenos Aires y tomar contacto con la ciudad y sólo ahí sabré exactamente que tocaré en el escenario”, concluye.

(Hoy, 21 horas en el CCK, Sarmiento 151, Sala La Ballena Azul).

GONZALO RUBALCABA Gonzalo Rubalcaba: ‘Todo aprendizaje lo canalizo en la música’



Gonzalo Rubalcaba hará un paréntesis en su ajetreada agenda internacional de conciertos para presentarse mañana sábado en el sur de Florida. El célebre pianista cubano estará junto a los otros músicos que componen el Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trío: Marcus Gilmore y Matt Brewer. En el espectáculo –que se celebra en el Miniaci Performing Arts Center– ejecutará piezas de su más reciente disco, Century XXI, además de otras joyas de su repertorio, que se extiende por más de tres décadas.

Rubalcaba nació el 27 de mayo de 1963, en La Habana. Tuvo la mejor preparación académica y despuntó profesionalmente en los años 1980, apadrinado, entre otros, por el legendario Dizzy Gillespie. En 1991 emigró a República Dominicana; seis años después recaló en estas costas, más precisamente en la localidad de Coral Springs, donde vive junto a su esposa, María, y sus tres hijos, Joao, Joan y Yolanda. A fines del año pasado, el artista visitó Cuba para ofrecer dos conciertos y una clase magistral.

Todo esto lo repasa en la siguiente conversación con El Nuevo Herald.

¿Cómo te sientes en esta etapa de tu carrera?

Maduro, cómodo por la manera en que digo las cosas; me siento tranquilo, confiado; no solo con la ejecución de la música si no con mi faceta de compositor también.

¿Qué tan importante es esa faceta?

Muy importante porque de lo contrario te pasas toda la vida siguiendo o imitando a otras voces. Hay que admirar lo que hacen los demás, pero también hay que saber escuchar para poder tener un sello propio.

¿Cuáles son tus mayores influencias?

Mi primer maestro, Pedro Hernández; Dizzy Gillespie, que me colocó en el mapa mundial de la música; y [el bajista] Charlie Haden.

¿El trabajo como músico es un asunto individual o de equipo?

Siempre es de equipo. En el orden espiritual hay algo más que nos acompaña, nos ilumina, y en lo terrenal hay mucha gente que colabora en el proceso musical.

¿El prestigio y el éxito no te hacen perder contacto con lo terrenal?

Los artistas somos muy dados a ser el centro y perdemos el hábito de escuchar, pero a mí no me ocurre eso, gracias a mi familia, que me hace ver el otro lado de las cosas.

¿Musicalmente te quedan cosas por aprender?

Sí. Constantemente la vida te somete a situaciones alegres, tristes o desagradables y todo ese aprendizaje lo canalizo en la música.

¿Dónde se origina la fuerte tradición musical de Cuba?

Creo que simplemente le “tocó” a Cuba ese privilegio, aunque también ha ayudado el hecho de que siempre fue un lugar de paso para gente de distintas latitudes que dejó su esencia.

¿Perteneces al mundo del jazz?

Agradezco estar vinculado a la historia jazzística, pero me siento libre en lo estilístico; lo que más me interesa es la excelencia, la calidad.

¿Te gusta escuchar tus discos?

Apenas los termino sí, pero a los dos meses empiezo a encontrarles defectos.

¿Por qué importa grabar un disco?

Es una necesidad creativa; los grabo cuando aglutino una cantidad de piezas que pueda ordenar para decir un discurso.

¿Cuál es el discurso de ‘Century XXI’?

Estamos en un siglo que hereda del anterior una serie de nombres, de personajes, de mentes, de formas de pensamiento, en el orden musical, que nos sirven para conformar un estilo que debemos expandir.

¿Te molesta que tu trabajo no sea de consumo masivo?

Pienso que lo que hago es lo que hago; y que tratar de complacer y comprometerme en áreas que quizá no sé hacer bien sería un error, además de un fraude conmigo mismo y con el público.

¿Cómo fue la experiencia de volver a tocar en Cuba?

Emocionante, porque fui muy bien recibido, lo cual me hizo pensar que, pese a todo, la gente de allá ha buscado la forma de no perder el contacto con sus hijos, sus creadores, sus profesionales que se han marchado.

¿Qué le dirías a un sector del exilio que se puede molestar por tu viaje?

Que lo hago porque quizá pueda estimular a las nuevas generaciones, como a mí me pasó de joven, en el año 1977, cuando asistí en La Habana a un festival de cantantes norteamericanos y vi la libertad que proyectaban, lo cual me marcó para siempre. •

Rubalcaba en concierto, sábado, 8 p.m., Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center, 3100 Ray Ferraro Jr Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, (954) 462-0222 o

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Video- Entrevistado por Erwin Pérez

Gonzalo Rubalcaba- “The Making of XXI Century” Available April 2012

The Pile (#3) — Faith, by Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who turns 48 today (Part 1)

The Pile (#3) — Faith, by Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who turns 48 today (Part 1)

Ted Panken

Saw that master pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba turns 48 today, and listened to his 2010 self-produced solo CD,  Faith, which arrived recently.  I think it’s a masterwork, as was his 2006 recital, Solo [Blue Note], on which he similarly assumed sole responsibility for time, tempo, key, timbre and tuning on a lyric meditation on the classical and folkloric canons of Cuba and the points at which they intersect with jazz.

“Not many people know the 20th century Cuban composers,” Rubalcaba told me for a Downbeat piece I wrote at the time.  “European culture had a strong presence in Cuba in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and these composers—Amadeo Roldan and Alejandro Garcia Cartula, for example—used tools from the European school to tell their own stories, their own roots and traditions, on the level that we know as classical music.”

As an example, Rubalcaba analyzed Roldan’s “Canción de Cuna del Niño Negro (Lullaby For a Black Child),” which appears on Solo. “The melody is not exactly a folk melody, but Roldan’s vision of how a folk melody sounds, and he placed it in a form that mirrors Europe,” he said. “There is the ambiance of the Impressionist composers. But the score shows us that the left hand, the ostinato, does not work as a French or Russian composer would do it. It’s against the beat, as in popular Cuban music—as we dance, as we accent and phrase our speech. My challenge was to combine the worlds of interpretation—my vision of that music—and improvisation.”

Solo feels highly curated. Faith — which includes one Caturla piece [“Preludio Corto #2 (Tu amor era Falso)”], as well as six Rubalcaba originals, two improvisations based on Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” and two interpretations apiece of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” and Bill Evans’ “Blue In Green” — does not. That the session took four days to record contradicts the aural impression that Rubalcaba turned the studio into a faux living room in which he just sat down and let the invention flow.  On both dates, he gets to essences, finding the most lyrical pathways, playing with restraint and keenly focused intention. The word “poet” gets tossed around a little too much in reference to pianists of a lyric bent, but it’s a descriptor entirely suited to Rubalcaba.

It’s a real evolution from the pre-40 phase of his career, when Rubalcaba wore his chops on his sleeve. He was  an innovator of Cuban timba (he was also the musical director for the salsero Isaac Delgado), and, while still in Cuba tried to synthesize Cuban and jazz vocabularies within a highly caffeinated, improv-oriented ensemble context. He emigrated to the Dominican Republic in 1992, then to Miami in 1996 (he became a U.S. citizen several years ago). By ’96, he was an internationally known jazz musician, known for various bravura soloist-over-all-star-rhythm section albums with the likes of bassists Charlie Haden, Ron Carter, and John Patitucci and drummers Jack DeJohnette and Paul Motian.

“At the beginning, I was a bit rushed, and pushed by the record company,” Rubalcaba remarked to me. “I was still in the process of feeling comfortable and safe. It took time to be part of the musical reality of the States, and meanwhile I was supposed to do something. “

As is evident on the subsequent Blue Note trio disks Inner Voyage [1998] andSuper Nova [2002], both propelled by Cuban master  drummer Ignacio Berroa (and on a highly creative late ’90s duo recording with Joe Lovano),  Rubalcaba worked hard to assimilate the nuances of jazz syntax into his presentation. He learned, as  Ron Carter put it in 2006, “not to feel so responsible for all the ideas—all the good nights and bad nights—and to let the chips fall where they may. He understands some things are out of his control, which frees him to be even more creative.”

Rubalcaba stated in 2006 that his ability to coalesce different styles and languages “is very typical in Latin-American musicians. They move around the world, assimilating everything possible to make them powerful artists. And the way they think they are powerful is working in different areas. For example, a lot of writers work in musicology, in novels, in social studies. In music, we see the same. It’s not just Cubans. Astor Piazzolla left Argentina looking to develop his career. He established himself in Paris, and when he returned to Argentina he was criticized because nobody understood exactly what he was doing with the tango. But the tango we hear today is 100% Piazzolla.”

This predisposition for polylingualism extends to the spoken word as well; Rubalcaba has become quite comfortable expressing himself in English, as was apparent on a pair of interviews that I conducted with him on WKCR in 2004 (during a run at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola with the New Cuban Quartet) and in 2006 (during a combined solo and trio — bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Jeff Watts — week at the Jazz Standard).  I’ll post them separately, seriatem.


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