“Fé” Concert, March 4, 2011 Homestead, Florida, Celebrating the Launch of 5Passion

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.


By Peter Hum, The Ottawa Citizen July 3, 2011 Read more: http:Review: Richard Galliano and Gonzalo Rubalcaba Accordionist, pianist exceed high expectations with dazzling skill

By Peter Hum, The Ottawa Citizen July 3,2011


Richard Galliano and Gonzalo Rubalcaba

NAC Studio

Sunday night

As tenderly as it began, the first piece from accordionist Richard Galliano and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba at their duo concert Sunday night set the expectations high for something entirely dazzling.

The acclaimed French accordionist and Cuban pianist began with a luminous ballad, Aurore. Rubalcaba was remarkable, coaxing ringing, bell-like sounds from the piano. Galliano’s contribution was measured and melodic above all, as if he was holding his tremendous virtuosity in check. Although Galliano and Rubalcaba displayed absolute command of their instruments, they put feeling and simpatico first.

As their concert continued, the music grew more extroverted, dramatic and occasionally showy. But Galliano and Rubalcaba never wavered in living up to the promise that their first piece had created. During their 90-minute set’s best moments, there simply wasn’t a heartbeat between them when it came to conveying a shared sense of beauty.

With the exception of a single jazz standard, Autumn Leaves, played almost as a jaunty, off-the-cuff fantasy, most of the duo’s music was dancing and courtly, trembling and trilling, nodding to the classical, tango and musette traditions that gird Galliano’s playing.

Throughout, it was hard not to be amazed by the accordionist’s fluidity and imagination on his cumbersome instrument. He seemed utterly liberated behind its buttons and bellows, able to realize dizzyingly fast, intricate, whirling melodic lines, punchy, propulsive chords and even a range of sound effects as if he were simply speaking.

For his part, Rubalcaba revealed enormous range at the piano, evoking pure prettiness and unbridled, percussive dynamism.

Each man played two solo numbers. Rubalcaba’s first seemed like an utterly improvised, fluttering meditation that built and built from its spare, upper-register beginnings into a focused, dramatic finish. His second solo seemed like a medley nodding to his Cuban roots — although The Star-Spangled Banner was part of the mix, too.

Galliano’s solo pieces were no less impressive. One was a key-changing feat, while the other was a cinematic, moody, minor-key marvel.

The concert concluded with two broad, show-stopping pieces. Sertao was extravagant and lush, and it was the only piece in which Galliano appeared fallible. When he gasped when he failed to execute a snippet of finger-busting melody, it was kind of a relief — proof that he had not sold his soul to play as astonishingly as he does.

The concert’s encore, Tango for Claude, was a rousing, red-blooded closer, a flag-waving finish. Emotionally, it was the opposite of the concert’s hymnal beginning, but it required the same world-class levels of effusiveness and empathy from Rubalcaba and Galliano to be such a memorable success.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen


Gonzalo Rubalcaba Richard Galliano – TVJazz.tv

Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Richard Galliano (Vancouver Jazz Festival) – July/2011

Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Matt Brewer and Marcus Gilmore Prepare for New Trio Recording

Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio Rehearsing in NYC for Upcoming Trio Recording

Al Di Meola And Gonzalo Rubalcaba Rehearsal

Al Di Meola and Gonzalo Rubalcaba Tune-Up for Upcoming Tour

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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