Gonzalito at the Drums

Richard Galliano, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Charlie Haden, Clarence Penn – Love Day

Richard Galliano with Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Crossroads 2010, parte3

“Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival” Liner Notes

At the 50th anniversary of the Monterey Jazz Festival, held in September 2007, bassist Dave Holland, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, saxophonist Chris Potter, and drummer Eric Harland performed the music you hear on this CD twice-first on the main stage, then again at Dizzy’s Den, a smaller, more intimate hall on the festival grounds. The main stage premiere thrilled the crowd, to be sure, but something downright magical happened the second time the band played.

“There was really an electric atmosphere from the audience,” recalls Holland. “There was an energy we all felt, that kind of circular energy that goes on between the musicians and the audience. It’s a very powerful thing when it really takes off.”

From the first urgent notes of Harland’s “Treachery,” you can feel a special situation unfolding. We are fortunate that tape was rolling.

Over its 52-year history, the Monterey Jazz Festival has done well at capturing such moments. You probably already know about Charles Mingus’ extraordinary 1964 performance of Meditations on Integration, the debut of the John Handy Quintet the following year and Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower the year after that.

Though all four players come from vastly different backgrounds, they share at least three important characteristics, not the least of which is a penchant for rhythmic complexity (and the dexterity to deal with it). Anyone familiar with Holland’s work knows that his ability to swing with locomotive momentum through odd time signatures (or combinations thereof, within a single piece), jagged patterns and polyrhythmic jungles is legendary. Rubalcaba, for his part, has internalized a host of traditional Latin American rhythms, but rather than manifesting them in a folkloric way, he extends them into the modern idiom. Fans of Eric Harland-who may know his work with Blanchard-has recently made a pronounced move toward the world rhythms, as well.
“I’m more influenced by Zakir Hussain these days,” says Eric, who has been working with the Indian tabla player in a trio with Charles Lloyd, on the album Sangam. “His consciousness of rhythm opens up a realm for us to communicate on so many polyrhythmic levels, as well as the discovery of different sounds and textures.”

“We’ve all been working on how to work within different meters and not have it sound like an academic exercise, but make it sound like music,” says Potter, whose mastery of odd time signatures is evident in his work with Holland as well as on his own.

All four of these players also privilege the idea of jazz as a conversation (as opposed to oration or, God forbid, soliloquy), which means they are all keen listeners as well as speakers. They can turn on a dime when someone else tosses in a dollar, remaining open to the flow of the music as it manifests itself.

Finally, these players also share a third, more elusive quality, one the Andalusian poet Garcia Lorca called duende, and which might best be translated as soulfulness. There is never a moment on this album when-like the bullfighter and bull in the ring-you feel the music is being played for stakes any lower than life and death. This is the real deal.

Herbie’s World: Herbie Hancock and Friends Featuring Gonzalo Rubalcaba- July 5, 2006 Larry Blumenfeld

The Sound of the City Herbie’s World: Herbie Hancock and Friends

JVC Jazz Festival June 23 Carnegie Hall -Possible Herbies -All the Hancock you need in four easy installments….

At least four Herbie Hancocks showed up for a Carnegie Hall concert at this year’s JVC Jazz Festival, which was fitting. A week prior, the festival screened a documentary on the making of Possibilities, Hancock’s CD of collaborations with pop stars from Paul Simon to Christina Aguilera, which came off as an attempt to cram Hancock’s expansive musicianship into radio-worthy moments. The Carnegie show was about collaborations too, but born of Hancock’s working relationships and rooted in jazz. Such concept concerts-a brief bio in four sets-generally suffer from abrupt mood swings and uneven pacing. Yet this one had its moments, especially at the beginning and end.

Bill Cosby offered witticisms at a preconcert reception, but his onstage introduction went like this: “Jack Dejohnette. Ron Carter. Herbie Hancock. ” Hancock and Carter exchanged ideas with a sensitivity worthy of their Miles Davis work as the trio walked Hancock’s “Toys” through a range of tempos and ingeniously avoided the melody of Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Thought About You.” Michael Brecker, absent recently due to a bone marrow disease, brought the crowd to its feet just by showing up; his climactic tenor solo during Hancock’s “One Finger Snap” heightened the triumphant mood.

The shift to Hancock’s new quintet was jarring, not least for the sudden loss of focus. Hancock was surrounded by too many keyboards and accompanied by too many willing soloists. When bassist Marcus Miller joined in for Hancock’s funk anthem “Chameleon,” the music tightened admirably if datedly. But Hancock’s duets with Gonzalo Rubalcaba wiped away any previous sins. Essaying Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” the two pianists offered a startling contrast of touch-Rubalcaba‘s light and glistening, Hancock’s denser and more resonant. Each issued subtle harmonic and rhythmic challenges, everyone answered.

Hancock’s closest personal and music relationship, with Wayne Shorter, yielded the evening’s best segment. The two had toured in this quartet before, with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Brian Blade, and their comfort showed. Two Shorter tunes and one by Holland formed an extended suite, its ebb and flow irregular but wholly organic. Though Shorter took one worthy soprano solo, more impressive were the small details: Shorter’s breathy tenor runs through Hancock’s clever changes, Holland’s bounding ostinatos, Blade’s ingenious displacements. These were possibilities-the endless kinds.


Concept concerts generally suffer from abrupt mood swings, yet this one had its moments.

The man sure can play-The Independent (London, England) August 29, 1995 Author: JOHN LYTTLE

In a jazz age still overshadowed by the Edmund Hillary-like heroes of the Fifties and Sixties, who scaled the peaks in mohair suits, with a cigarette in their mouths and a monkey on their backs, it’s rather alarming to come across a contemporary musician whose sheer genius announces itself from the off. But the Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba – who plays Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on Saturday – demonstrated on his debut Blue Note album, Live at Montreux, in 1991, exactly the kind of brilliance that is not supposed to happen any more. With Charlie Haden on double-bass and Paul Motian on drums, he clearly had good taste on his side already, but from the opening notes of the first track’s reworking of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t”, lights flashed, bells rang and the elusive jazz jackpot’s coins poured out in a flood. He began with a full-tilt vamp on the chords, Afro-Cuban rhythms driving manic repetitions, until Monk’s lop-sided theme emerged amid a welter of virtuoso effects, a double-time salsa chorus leading into a second ascent on the tune until it slowed down to a dirge before the appropriately Monkian plinky-plonk ending. His unaccompanied solo on the self-composed third track was even better, a playful cadenza that mixed the history of post-war jazz piano styles with a ferocious Cuban lilt. And then he played a ballad so tenderly it almost made you weep. He was 27 and suddenly the most exciting pianist in the world. Unfortunately for his career, he was also Cuban. The son of a renowned Havana musician, whose own father was one of Cuba’s most illustrious danzon composers, Rubalcaba entered the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory at the age of eight to be taught by his mother before studying composition at the Arts Institute of Havana. By the time of his Blue Note debut (actually leased to the label by the Japanese subsidiary Something Else, in order to circumvent the US economic blockade of Cuba)Rubalcaba had already recorded a number of albums and toured Europe. Indeed, it was his fate to be “discovered” over and over again, by Dizzy Gillespie, who played with him at Havana’s 1985 jazz festival; by Charlie Haden, at the same festival in 1986, and by the German label Messidor, who released albums by him in 1988 and 1989.

Now a genuine star, with a further four Blue Note albums behind him, Rubalcaba has remained a citizen of Cuba, although he lives in the Dominican Republic in order to practice his profession more easily than Cuba’s isolation allows. When he was invited to New York for a Lincoln Centre concert in 1993, a diplomatic row broke out, with the State Department considering him persona non grata, and exiled musicians like Paquito D’Rivera protesting his presence. He still managed to play, but critics carped that he was either too Cuban or not Cuban enough for the jazz tradition. His Edinburgh solo concert – a British debut – is something of a coup, but he will be back in the autumn for a tour with the classical pianist Katia Labeque.

I interviewed him in Germany, with his responses translated into English by his manager. Technique, which Rubalcaba is alternately praised and cursed for, is, he says, “something to which you don’t just have the key in your pocket, to use at your will. The more you have, the more you need to think about how you will use it, and in my case, I always have a sense of its limits.” His first musical influence was Cuban traditional music, especially the heavily African-flavoured music of the church. “After that,” he says, “was Cuban popular music – also very African – and the music I played in my father’s band. If I have a style of my own, it is because I have been using jazz as a reference while also taking in the Cuban and African background which was itself an important influence to jazz musicians in the US.” Rubalcaba is also a much more varied player than he is credited for – he even does a nifty version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. The tune, he concedes, was suggested by his manager, but he remains a Fab Four fan, because, he says, he’s in sympathy with “the ideology of the time”. One fondly imagines Fidel himself grooving to Sgt Pepper in a natty camouflaged Beatle-jacket.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s Jazz, Played in a Club but Suited for a Concert Hall-By BEN RATLIFF- June 29, 2006

You have heard that one of the charming things about jazz is its halfway position between nightclub and concert-hall music. That it amounts to serious art that can accommodate musical slang, casual reflexes, earthiness, humor.

That perception stops at the Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. His solo set on Tuesday night at the Jazz Standard was totally, purely meant for the concert hall. And the concert hall might not have been good enough. A soundproof room, maybe. On the moon.

The weightless atmosphere of Mr. Rubalcaba’s performance didn’t come from looseness; it was brought to you by tension. In all of these pieces he used heavy rubato playing, and the fluctuation of tempo was no light matter; it was 75 straight minutes of sheer alert perception.

It would have all seemed excessive, or chilly, if it wasn’t so staggeringly beautiful. Mr. Rubalcaba can extract a chord from the piano with a shallow, trebly ring, as if playing the harp; he can play a bright, bony note or end a phrase in a chord as subtle as an aftertaste. During the performance, delivered without any introductions or microphone time, he slipped out of pieces unnoticed, ending some songs with faint chords and a whiff of irresolution, not giving the audience time to realize what was going on.

For the gig Mr. Rubalcaba partly followed the arc of his most recent record, “Solo” (Blue Note). He started with the first track, “Rezo,” a lovely slow piece of music at that seemed to move through the harmonic atmosphere of a Duke Ellington ballad. It wasn’t your typical set opener. In some pieces — like his “Quasar,” with a repeated two-chord figure in the left hand — there were steady anchors; in some improvised pieces, based on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” chord changes, there was just a kind of floating, signified by long, improvised right-hand phrases, accelerating and decelerating.

The set was so original that you didn’t feel you were hearing other people’s music. Yet you were: among the pieces lingered over were “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “El Manisero” and “Bésame Mucho.” It was also entirely within the limits of functional harmony, except for some agitated free playing on “Quasar,” yet it felt beautifully disorienting in its solemn and controlled musical rhetoric.

Mr. Rubalcaba won’t be doing this all week: by today, and through the rest of his run at the club, he will be joined by a bassist, Matt Brewer, and a drummer, Jeff Watts. It was generous to play such music in a place where people were actually drawing breath, let alone eating barbecue.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba performs as part of a trio through Sunday night at the Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, Manhattan; (212) 576-2232.

Meticulous Jazzman of the World-By BEN RATLIFF- Published: February 17, 2008- The New York Times

The Cuban-born pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who over the last 15 years or so has become one of the greatest musicians in jazz, is meticulous about music. You can tell this by the first unaccompanied notes of “Avatar,” his complexly beautiful new album. He has an almost eerie control over his sound, as if he were playing the strings directly instead of using the keys as intermediaries. He is also meticulous about ideas. He tends to classify music rather exactly, and he talks about jazz in terms of codes and information. He prepares his records — “productions,” he calls them — with conceptual rigor.

Mr. Rubalcaba has spent about a decade living in southern Florida in a quiet gated community about half-hour from Fort Lauderdale. His life looks more like that of a classical-music virtuoso than a jazz musician. He goes to the airport, tours, comes home and dives back into practice.

“I always wanted to have silence when I got home from working,” he said, sitting in the living room of his house last week, dressed entirely in white. Mr. Rubalcaba, who has a wife and three children, is 44, though he looks younger, and talks older. He is small and compact, with boyish freckles on his nose, but discusses his music with lofty self-assurance, almost professorially.

“Avatar,” which came out this month on Blue Note, represents his first serious interaction with the younger jazz musicians on the New York scene in his 15 years of playing in America. (He is to appear at the Village Vanguard, from Tuesday to next Sunday.)

New York can use him. An exciting recent undercurrent of music in the city has been a new kind of Afro-Latin jazz, with greater intellectual complexity, compositional ambition and cultural precision.

But Mr. Rubalcaba has mostly not been part of it. Instead he has been making his records and working around the world with his trio; he has also been involved in album projects with Charlie Haden and Joe Lovano, and has been devising a solo-piano repertory. Mr. Rubalcaba comes from a musical family in Cuba: his father and grandfather were prominent members of popular orchestras. (His father, Guillermo Rubalcaba, was for a time the pianist in the band of the violinist Enrique Jorrín, who created the cha-cha-cha.) Born in 1963, he grew up regularly seeing the best Cuban popular musicians playing in his house: Jorrín, the bassist Juan Formell of Los Van Van, the pianist Frank Emilio Flynn, the percussionist Changuito, the singer Omara Portuondo.

This was a perfect complement for Mr. Rubalcaba’s studies at Cuba’s musical conservatory, where he learned European classical music. “I had two schools,” he said. “The school that I could get in my house, the music of the street coming through my father and my family, and the orthodox school, the classical school, that didn’t want to hear anything about popular music.”

In 1992 he legally left Cuba and went to the Dominican Republic, where he lived for six years; he then he applied for permanent residence in the United States. (He is now a United States citizen; each time he returns to Cuba to see his family, he must apply for a visa.)

Last year Mr. Rubalcaba put “Avatar” together in a hurry, after trying and failing to tease out a concept for another piano-trio record. He decided he was tired of the format, having done it consistently for at least 15 years. (He has made more than 20 albums.) He heard a broader instrumental sound in his head, and enlisted a quintet, member by member.

He started with the saxophonist Yosvany Terry, a slightly younger Cuban living in New York, whom Mr. Rubalcaba knew from school days in Havana. He found Mike Rodriguez, a young trumpeter in Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and Matt Brewer, a bassist with Greg Osby’s  band. At the end of the process, at Mr. Brewer’s suggestion, he added the drummer Marcus Gilmore, whom Mr. Rubalcaba had never heard. Mr. Gilmore had the task of learning some ferociously complicated music in three days. Three weeks of performances followed, then the making of the album in New York.

In the context of Mr. Rubalcaba’s career the record is unusually cooperative. He asked his band members to contribute compositions; Mr. Terry wrote three pieces for the album, and Mr. Brewer wrote one. And the quintet is as up-to-date a jazz group as can be found.

Sizing up Mr. Brewer and Mr. Gilmore, both in their 20s, Mr. Rubalcaba spoke not so much of what they are playing — their techniques or licks — but the wide range of what they are absorbing, what they are listening to, where they’re getting their input. “They’re part of a new generation of musicians that has more hunger about other things outside of jazz,” he said. “And they don’t see those things as exotic. They see them as serious and deep.” Mr. Rubalcaba himself learned jazz in bits and pieces. Until the late 1970s Cuban musicians were severely discouraged from playing it, for political reasons. Beyond that was the problem of what he calls information. In the mid-1980s Mr. Rubalcaba used to listen to a half-hour jazz show on Cuban radio, but the music didn’t go past the early ’60s; the disc jockey kept replaying items in his limited library, Mr. Rubalcaba remembered. He also had the option of searching for the few American jazz records that had been licensed to record labels in Communist-bloc countries or learning about records from friends who had traveled outside Cuba.  Keith Jarrett, for instance, was not a big influence among Cuban musicians in the ’80s because his records were hard to come by. But Mr. Rubalcaba found his way to Mr. Jarrett’s solo album “Facing You” when a friend brought back a copy from America. And in 1983, when Mr. Rubalcaba went on tour with the dynastic charanga group Orquesta Aragón, someone in Paris gave him a copy of Mr. Jarrett’s “Survivor’s Suite.” To his amazement, six years later he would play with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, musicians on that album.

He has several things going now: his current tour with his new band; his continuing performances of solo-piano repertory, in which he bridges Cuba’s classical and popular music with improvisation and chilling focus; a collaboration with the Cuban-born singer Francisco Céspedes, his second; and a studio session with the French jazz accordionist Richard Galliano in the spring .

He has also been rehearsing in Los Angeles for an opera called “Revolution of Forms,” which may have its first performance in 2011. Set in Havana in 1961, it describes the planning of Cuba’s state art schools. The story tells how various architects and politicians — including Fidel Castro  and Che Guevara — argued about the correct way to fuse art with politics and history. (Mr. Rubalcaba, who attended the school, is working on the score with another composer, Anthony Davis; the libretto is being written by Charles Koppelman and the Mexican-born journalist Alma Guillermoprieto, who taught dance at the school in the ’60s.)

Mr. Rubalcaba is a serious cultural syncretist: he talks analytically and philosophically about combining aesthetic elements from Cuba, America and Europe, of mixing ancient and modern. “We have reached a point in the evolution not only of music, but of the world, where people have less resistance to being mixed,” he said. “It is a time to be open and anxious to learn beyond your own space. And it doesn’t take anything away from you. In fact it brings rich things to you.”

But he disdained the idea of working according to a grand project. He applies himself to whatever is in front of him, he explained. “I work as if the thing I’m working on will be the last thing I do,” he said. “It’s much better than looking around it to see what’s ahead.”

A New Band Gives a Pianist a Fresh Context-By BEN RATLIFF- The New York Times August 19-2007

Gonzalo Rubalcaba, a pianist of almost supernatural abilities, has a new band and new songs. On Tuesday night at the Jazz Standard the music was both imposing and not quite cooked. Probably the quintet’s run at the club this week will make it breathe and cohere before it is recorded in the studio next month. But the music is worth hearing at the very least because you can sense Mr. Rubalcaba’s playing in a new context. And that context is a new-style New York rhythm section, as shrewd and skillful as they come. Most often, over the last 20 years, he has played with the drummer Ignacio Berroa, who was born in Cuba (as was Mr. Rubalcaba) and has been absorbing jazz rhythm since the mid-’60s. His playing gives the music a different cast, a little more open and generous, and much more Cuban. This week the drummer is Marcus Gilmore, one of a small group of drummers under 30 who are actually changing the way jazz sounds. His style is splintered but organized, constantly changing without ever being “free,” richly precise in detail. The bassist is Matt Brewer, who has been playing with young bandleaders like Logan Richardson and Aaron Parks, and has made a record with one of the emerging jazz musicians’ lodestar figures, Greg Osby. Those two, with Mr. Rubalcaba, create the central action in the group. In the new music there are opaque ballads with modern European classical harmonies, tunes with 6/8 polyrhythm and 4/4 swing, and pieces with shifting tempos and melodies. This isn’t Latin jazz per se, or even Mr. Rubalcaba’s original version of it; it’s more recognizably modern mainstream New York jazz.

The quintet also includes the trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, from Florida, and the saxophonist Yosvany Terry, a Cuban-born New Yorker. And though they were playing at the top of their abilities — Mr. Terry phrasing fast as he jumped in and out of the rhythm, and Mr. Rodriguez crafting soft and highly melodic flugelhorn solos — their parts represented a more common vision of jazz. They harmonized, they played solos when their turns came up, and then they waited off-stage for their appointed moment to come back.

This would all be good enough, except that the trio alone had such clear possibility. Piano, bass and drums made all possible combinations: soloing, collective improvisation, one accompanying another. And the connection between Mr. Rubalcaba and Mr. Gilmore — even at this early stage — was extraordinary, since both are fascinated by microscopic matters of touch and tone. The challenge for Mr. Rubalcaba will be to bring the horn players more into the weave of the music. Sit close to Mr. Rubalcaba, because he has a tendency to load the music with tension by playing complex passages quietly, using dark, dense harmony; the delicacy of his touch makes it seem as if he were pulling notes out of the piano rather than pushing them in. At one point, toward the end of Tuesday’s first set, he showed what he was once famous for: blinding speed in forthright rhythm. But normally he was running in the other direction, toward slow tempos, an almost self-erasing softness and a kind of improvisation that crisply and deliberately kept its distance from the beat.

The Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet performs through Sunday night at the Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, Manhattan; (212) 576-2232.

A Pianist Happy to Let Others Do the Driving-By NATE CHINEN-The New York Times


About a year and a half ago the redoubtable Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba took a new band into the studio. He had broken in his sidemen, a clutch of young New York progressives, with a weeklong run at the Jazz Standard. It was minimal preparation, given the demands of the music involved, and yet it produced strong results: “Avatar,” released on Blue Note last year, is one of his warmest and most rewarding albums. Mr. Rubalcaba and his crew are back at the club this week, as part of a programming blitz tied to Blue Note’s 70th anniversary. Their second set on Tuesday had all the spark and sophistication of “Avatar,” from which it drew exclusively. But every aspect of the music felt hardier and more intuitive, more fully absorbed into the metabolism of the group. The front line, with Mike Rodriguez on trumpet and Yosvany Terry on saxophones, fell into sync with exacting ease, sounding bright and sleek. The rhythm section, anchored by the perceptive bassist Matt Brewer and the astutely nimble drummer Marcus Gilmore, fed a sort of jet-stream propulsion, shifting among styles and tempos without a perceptible hitch. (Mr. Gilmore is scheduled to play again on Friday; his replacement on the other two remaining nights, Justin Brown, has some difficult shoes to fill.) And Mr. Rubalcaba was scrupulous and terse with his pianism, more so than on the album. He allowed himself just a few effusive, bulletlike runs, choosing elsewhere to play concise figures at a medium-soft volume. Focusing his attention on an exceptionally precise touch at the keyboard — at times he seemed to be weighing the physical properties of each note — he willed himself into the background. During one brisk, searching solo by Mr. Rodriguez, Mr. Rubalcaba laid out almost entirely, providing little more than punctuation. The goal behind such restraint is to shape the action ever more subtly, and in that sense Mr. Rubalcaba was ahead of the game. The band seemed charged by the acuteness of his listening, poised to respond to his slightest signal. Some of the most astonishing playing of the set took place in the stir behind Mr. Terry and Mr. Rodriguez, who responded by elevating their level of performance (especially in the case of Mr. Rodriguez). When things took a turn toward extroversion — on Mr. Rubalcaba’s radiant closer, “Infantil” — the band was ready. Intense but mindful, it reflected an evolving standard, fulfilling its promise but not its potential, which is good news all around.

The Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet performs through Saturday at the Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, Manhattan; (212) 576-2232, jazzstandard.net.

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