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Rubalcaba Dazzles at 11th Annual San Francisco Flamenco Fest

gonzRubalcaba Dazzles at 11th Annual San Francisco Flamenco Fest
Posted 3/17/2016

Flamenco has a firm foothold in the Bay Area, thanks to the 11th Annual San Francisco Flamenco Festival, which concluded on March 9 with a concert at the Herbst Theatre. Vocalist Esperanza Fernández and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba headlined a dual tribute to the Cuban sonero Beny Moré (1919–’63) and the Spanish Gypsy cantaor Manolo Caracol (1909–’73) dubbed “¡Oh Vida!” with Fernández serving as Artistic Director and Rubalcaba the event’s Musical Director.

Both pairings proved to be a perfect fit. Contemporaries, Moré and Caracol were popular entertainers as well as performing artists. Fernández and Rubalcaba, in turn, are each virtuosos comfortable investigating disparate musical styles and traditions.

During her introduction, Bay Area Flamenco Artistic and Executive Director Nina Menéndez explained that Fernández had performed at last year’s San Francisco Music Festival and mentioned she was pondering working on this project with Rubalcaba.

Menéndez first met Rubalcaba in Havana back in the late ’80s when he and her brother, guitarist Pablo Menéndez, played together in the band Sonidos Contemporáneos. In an earlier statement she expressed her enthusiasm about the possible collaboration and was able to present the project a mere five days after its March 4 debut in Miami.

The venue was darker than usual as the musicians, including bass guitarist J.M. Popo and percussionists Jorge “El Cubano” Pérez and José Fernández (no relation to Esperanza) took their places on the bandstand. It evoked an after-hours mood as various colored lights would illuminate the musicians in a minimalist fashion.

Rubalcaba alone was visible stage right as he provided an unaccompanied introduction to the evening’s titular bolero, a signature song of Moré’s. Utilizing soft chords and delicate single note excursions, he established an elegant, sweeping template.

Fernández’s impassioned crooning then cut across the rhythm section’s understated accompaniment. She clapped in syncopated support while Rubalcaba executed a surgically economical solo. Addressing the audience in Spanish, she then let Rubalcaba start the next number—“Popurrí de Zambras” from Caracol’s songbook. His sinuous lines contrasted with her sustained, horn-like singing.

When he soloed precisely and quietly, she accompanied with graceful dance-like arm movements. Though Rubalcaba enjoys a reputation as a mighty technician, he reminded listeners early on of the equally impressive delicately restrained aspect of his pianistic approach.

Pérez and José Fernández’s arsenal included cajons, congas and their own bodies. The two percussionists were energetic standouts on an infectious version of “Yiri-Yiri Bon.”

Even for non-Spanish speakers, Esperanza Fernández’s vocal delivery conveyed the sassy and assured lyrics. She reinforced a feeling of sensuality through her own brief expressive dance that preceded a Rubalcaba solo featuring crisp arpeggios.

Popo had he honor of doing the first non-Rubalcaba solo introduction of the set for Moré’s “Tú Me Sabes Comprender.” Manipulating the volume of his instrument, he made these abstract explorations sound like ocean waves.

In a true cultural crossover moment, Rubalcaba then played with a rapidity and fluidity that made the piano sound as if it was a strummed acoustic guitar. In a musically intimate moment, Fernández walked over to the pianist, turned to him while remaining in profile to the audience and seemingly serenaded her creative partner.

For the first of two medleys, Moré’s “¿Como Fue?” was partnered with Caracol’s “Gitana Blanca.” Popo again played first, plucking successive notes for another wet effect—a soft constant rain in this case. Esperanza Fernández snapped in time and then danced during Rubalcaba’s expansive solo.

In the latter segment, Fernández got her own solo showcase followed by an exquisite passage with just her and the two percussionists. Pérez and José Fernández were featured throughout the rest of the night.

The other medley, Moré’s “Santa Isabel de Las Lajas” and Caracol’s “Malva Loca,” closed the formal repertoire with the percussionists holding a de facto master class on clapping before tandem soloing on “Malva Loca” while employing a variety of their instruments.

The quintet was encouraged back to the stage and called an audible by presenting a true encore in the form of another version of “Yiri-Yiri Bon.” This one was shorter and looser, with a quicker tempo and Esperanza Fernández leading the enthusiastic crowd in a clap-along.

It was one final communal moment concluding a spirited and inspired program.

(Note: To read a 1972 Classic Interview with Dizzy Gillespie, click here.)

—Yoshi Kato

A Cuban Flamenco Round Trip With Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Esperanza Fernández – By Andrew Gilbert MARCH 7, 2016

A Cuban Flamenco Round Trip With Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Esperanza Fernández




Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Spanish vocalist Esperanza Fernández meet in Oh Vida! (Courtesy: the artist)


MARCH 7, 2016


In Spain, the expression ida y vuelta refers to a style of flamenco that absorbed Latin American influences and returned to the motherland. Translated literally as “roundtrip songs,” these tunes flowed most prolifically from Cuba, intersecting with rumba and guajiras.

But the collaboration between Cuban piano maestro Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Spanish flamenco star Esperanza Fernández involves a different kind of journey. Their project Oh Vida! — which concludes the 11th Annual Bay Area Flamenco Festival at the Herbst Theater on Wednesday, March 9 — celebrates the enduring influence of Cuban sonero Beny Moré(1919-1963) and Andalusian flamenco cantaor Manolo Caracol (1909-1973). Rather than making a round trip, Oh Vida! creates a new realm by revealing fervid emotional terrain via the shared improvisational imperative in jazz, son and flamenco.

Oh Vida! doesn’t present the music of Moré and Caracol as separate entities. As the project’s music director and arranger, Rubalcaba has spent nearly two years researching, pondering and designing a program that weaves together songs associated with Moré and Caracol, two supremely charismatic artists who redefined their respective art forms.

“Sometimes we’re listening to Beny Moré in the frame of flamenco harmonies together with Cuban rhythms and then you hear Caracol at the end of a song, like the Beny Moré hit ‘Como Fue,’” says Rubalcaba, 52. “The main purpose to make that sound natural, which is the most difficult thing. From the moment that I started working with this idea I found a lot of points in common, a lot of doors opened.”

During the golden age of Cuban music from the 1930s to the 1950s, when Havana’s torrid night life accelerated the evolution of styles and rhythms that swept the world (particularly son cubano, mambo and cha cha cha), Moré was at the center of the action. “Beny did everything — boleros, sonesmontunosguajiras,” Rubalcana says. “He made a recording with Orquesta Aragon singing cha cha cha. He tried many different styles and was a champion of everyone. Often you see people able to transmit a powerful lyric, a bolero, but they’re not powerful doing son, but he was able to do everything.”

Like so many flamenco stars, Caracol was born into a musical dynasty. Steeped in the music’s Gypsy roots, he was also one of the art form’s great crossover artists who reached an international audience in the 1940s performing with dancer, singer and actress Lola Flores. Some flamenco purists disdained his popular work, and his extravagant carousing damaged his reputation, but no one contested the extraordinary power of his voice.

At first glance, the intensity and anguish of Caracol’s flamenco might not seem to share much in common with Moré’s often playful and wise-cracking sones, but Nina Mendendez says that a deeper look reveals commonalities. “Flamenco has a whole area that’s incredibly humorous and playful, but it’s not what we hear about,” says the Bay Area Flamenco Festival’s founder and artistic director. “The art form is full of anguish and the darker side, but a very important part is the humorous side, which makes sense when you think of humor as a coping device in hard times.”

The collaboration between Rubalcaba and Fernández, who gave an incendiary performance at last year’s Flamenco Festival, grew out of a brief encounter in Seville a few years ago. Paired to perform in the documentary film Playing Lecuona, a musical celebration of the great Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, Rubalcaba came to the session largely unfamiliar with Fernández’s work.

“I knew her name, because she was already an important figure in flamenco,” he says. “I remember it took us about half an hour to understand the form and structure of Lecuona’s ‘Malagueña,’ and I was in love with the way she transmitted the music, the sound and power of the voice. There’s something chemical when you see somebody playing or doing art, and you connect or you don’t.”

Despite their evident chemistry, Rubalcaba didn’t foresee further collaboration until Fernández approached him and suggested exploring the music of Moré and Caracol. The project premiered Friday, March 4 at the Flamenco Festival Miami; Wednesday’s Herbst Theatre concert is the second-ever Oh Vida! performance. Featuring a percussionist from both traditions and a bassist, it proves to be a rhythmically charged encounter that honors the departed masters by creating something new.

“The first part of the process was to listen to them as much as we can, and then get divorced from that,” Rubalcaba says. “We don’t want to risk repeating what they did. We need to know what they did, but with a lot of respect find a way to combine rhythms and sounds — cajón, palmas, congas and bongos — and a vocabulary that goes from flamenco to jazz to Cuban music.”


Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Ekstatik sucht Verfremdung – LJUBISA TOSIC 2. März 2016- Der kubanische Jazzpianist gastierte im Wiener Konzerthaus – Gonzalo Rubalcaba Ekstatik sucht Verfremdung














Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Ekstatik sucht Verfremdung LJUBISA TOSIC 2. März 2016, 16:19 22 POSTINGS Der kubanische Jazzpianist gastierte im Wiener Konzerthaus Wien – Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba sucht jenen einsamen Spielraum auf, in dem sich jetzt schon über Jahrzehnte (und recht nachhaltig die Disziplin prägend) Keith Jarrett aufhält. Im Gegensatz zu Jarrett, der gerne einleitend auch ausgiebige Reisen durch leicht kitschige Akkordlandschaften unternimmt, aus denen heraus er jedoch Inspiration für wundersame Augenblicke schöpft, geht es der Kubaner auch im Wiener Konzerthaus ohne Umschweife an. Bei introvertierten Balladen ist jede Note bewusst gesetzt, kein Aufwärmen wird in Form musikalischer Kaminfeuermomenten zelebriert. Hier kommt einer sofort zum Punkt, setzt Pointen und ist darauf bedacht, auch im klanglichen Bereich delikat Rufzeichen zu setzen. Rubalcabas Stärke ist allerdings nicht unbedingt nur im Sanften zu suchen. Zur vollen improvisatorischen Pracht bäumt sich seine Virtuosität eher im Dramatischen auf, dann also, wenn sie in jene Welt der linearen Spontankunst eintaucht. Dort regiert der Bebop in verdichteter abstrakter Form, und es klingt dann mitunter wie ein jazziger Hummelflug – unablässig strömt die melodische Energie aus diesem expressiven Geist. Logisch: Selten weitet sich die Musik zur harmonischen Riesenkathedrale, die dann nur noch aus überschäumendem Klavierklang besteht. Auch darin ist der Künstler extrem. Und es zeigt sich, dass Rubalcaba nicht primär auf formale Ausgewogenheit der Stücke Wert legt. Er steigert sich in Phrasen hinein, reizt sie aus – es gilt hier eben das Primat des unmittelbaren Ausdrucks. Eines ist aber einzigartig bei Rubalcaba, der in den USA lebt: Wie er – im rhythmischen Bereich – afrokubanische Klischees aufgreift und durch Verfremdung und Akzentverschiebung Richtung Stilisierung treibt, ist schlicht meisterhaft. Da klingt er wie ein entfesselter Thelonious Monk, wie das Genie Monk, so es einst Rubalcabas Technik gehabt hätte. (Ljubisa Tosic, 2.3.2016) –


“Charlie” available on iTunes!


Finally live!  Gracias! Charlie, I will love you forever….

Charlie, GR itunes600


















Portrait of Charlie Haden by Kathy Sloane.

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

Barcelona Jazz Festival Pairs Wine With Music for a Fest That Doesn’t Cater to Tourists

12/1/2015 by 















On a recent night in Barcelona, Gonzalo Rubalcaba sits at the piano, sipping a glass of wine. Rubalcaba, the Cuban musician who played beside Dizzy Gillespie as a young man in Havana and is known for his Grammy-winning collaborations with the late Charlie Haden — in addition to his brilliant time-and-place-traveling solo catalogue — is no ordinary piano man.

Neither is the wine in Rubalcaba’s glass. It’s a 1989 Bordeaux that sells for almost $400 a bottle. It’s being shared by an audience of 125 sybarites at the Barcelona International Jazz Festival’s “Monvinic Experience.”

After a taste, Rubalcaba puts down his glass and runs his fingers silently back and forth over the piano keys while a comedic actor well-known from Spanish TV does a sketch inspired by the wine, and one of Spain’s leading wine experts tells the story of the selection. Then, Rubalcaba begins to play, uncorking an emotional mix of vintage melodies and furious rhythms.

During the event at Monvinic, a place that Food & Wine magazine put at the top of a list of “The Best Wine Bars in the World,” Rubalcaba’s task is to perform a piece inspired by each taste of eight wines. The encore is for a red from 1946, after which the guests, who paid about $185 to attend, are served a sandwich the chef named for Rubalcaba.

“One thing that makes Barcelona so special is our culture of food and wine,” says Joan Anton Cararach, the artistic director of the Jazz Festival, a two-month long series of concerts at venues around the city that opened at the end of September with Diana Krall, and wraps up on Dec. 22 with a gospel concert. “I want to feel that everything is related. “Food, wine and music is beauty.”

Cararach, a tall, kinetic figure who wears a stubbly beard, likes to describe his work booking the festival as “a search for beauty.”

“I program the music I like,” adds Cararach, who seems to somehow be present at all of the 100-plus festival activities. “I am really free. I can do what I want. And I can do that because I have the financial support of a private enterprise.”

He is referring to The Project, a major Barcelona promoter that puts on some 400 concerts a year. In addition to pop and rock concerts, The Project produces the Jazz Festival and others, including the Guitar BCN festival (whose 2016 line up includes Noel Gallagher).

The 2015 edition of the Barcelona Jazz Festival is its 47th. Cararach started directing the festival in 2003, when its scope was much smaller. But he’s adamant about keeping the format as a series of events, not a jazz marathon.

“One venue, one artist,” he stresses. That may make it more difficult for travelers to Barcelona to take in all the shows during a short visit to the city, but Caracach makes it clear he is not interested in creating a destination festival.

“Barcelona doesn’t need more tourists,” he declares. (His opinion is shared by Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, who has supported measures to stem the flow of visitors to Barcelona. A record 7.5 million came to the city in 2014.)

No more than 12 percent of the festival’s 1.3 million Euro budget comes from government subsidies, which Cararach proudly notes is lower than most other festivals in a country whose many music festivals are often credited with stimulating urban economies. Support from the Jazz Festival’s title sponsor, Voll-Damm beer, and other brands account for 38 percent of the budget. Ticket sales cover 50 percent of production costs of the festival, which Cararach says turns a profit.

The Barcelona Jazz Festival concerts often have a clubby feel, like a reunion of old friends. And it is. Cararach likes to refer to participating artists as “friends of the festival,” and repeat performances are frequent. Cuban jazz innovator Chucho Valdés, who Cararach now calls the godfather of the festival, has become a fixture since appearing with his father, the iconic Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, whom the festival showcased during his spectacular comeback years before his death in 2013.

This year, Valdés performed with three of his own children at one concert, then joined Barcelona band Txarango onstage for a club show that attracted a crowd of 5000. Valdés, like other festival artists, gave a master class to local conservatory students, and made a surprise appearance at one of the four Sunday Family Jazz concerts given by an impressive local school big band at a downtown hotel.

“Chucho is like Messi for those kids,” Cararach says.

This year’s festival also included concerts by Chick Corea, Neneh Cherry, Iron & Wine, Marc Ribot and Paquito de Rivera.

And there was the free “Food & Jazz,” the festival’s only day-into-night event, held in a public park, where people who could not afford Monvinic had a chance to experience the beauty of food, wine (and beer) and music in Barcelona.

“Charlie” available this next at the iTunes Store – Gracias!



Wonderful portrait of Charlie by Kathy Sloane.

Charlie, GR itunes600

Esperanza Fernandez and Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Malagueña

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