Sound Check



Gonzalito with the Band

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.

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