The New York City Jazz Record

Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba made a major impact with his Blue Note debut in 1990, showing off a thunderous attack in interpreting the jazz canon. Since then, he has evolved as an artist, incorporating many styles into his approach. With XXI Century, a two-disc set, Rubalcaba displays his versatility and imagination, joined by bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Marcus Gilmore, with a few guests on several tracks. Included are familiar pieces by well known pianists taken in new directions. Bill Evans performed his bittersweet ballad “Time Remembered” with a touch of melancholy yet Rubalcaba takes a different path, increasing its spaciousness by slowly working his way into it and having the rhythm section playing a bit off-center, considerably reducing its emotional impact. Rubalcaba’s furious take of Lennie Tristano’s “Lennie’s Pennies” (a reworking of “Pennies From Heaven”) disguises the song’s source until it is well underway, as the trio launches a tense postbop workout. “Moore”, credited to Paul Bley (actually Gary Peacock’s “Moor”), has an avant garde air, with darting piano and dissonant arco bass. The pianist’s originals are even more varied. His “Fifty” blends AfroCuban and funk with a heavy percussive touch, prominent electric bass and judicious use of the electric keyboards. Lionel Loueke adds his voice and guitar to Rubalcaba’s intense, percussive “Oshun”, though the primary focus remains on the core trio and guest percussionist Pedro “Pedrito” Martinez. Loueke contributed the ominous and introspective “Alafia”, the leader’s tense solo, sporadically adding synthesizer, leaving the most lasting impression. Enrique Ubieta’s “Son XXI” initially puts the focus on the long solos by Brewer and Martinez, followed by Rubalcaba’s wild solo blending Cuban jazz and postbop. XXI Century is easily Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s most diverse and demanding release.