The African Diaspora spread rather evenly [so to speak] throughout the Caribbean and it is manifest in many aspects of culture from the Gulf Coast of the United States, Puerto Rico and the Dominican through the Caribbean islands and throughout the Southern part of the American continent. However, Cubans have proudly kept their artistic traditions alive. As a result, the African-ness of Afro-Caribbean music burns in the bluest part of the flame in Cuba. This is eminently clear from its many musical ambassadors through the ages – such as the pianist Bebo Valdés and the percussionist Luciano “Chano” Pozo and vocalist Celia Cruz – down to the great pianists, percussionists and vocalists of today.
At least two of four of them are present on this explosively beautiful live recording Viento Y Tiempo · Live at Blue Note Tokyo fronted by the great virtuoso pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Aymée Nuviola, a velvet-voiced and seductive vocalist who harks back to the fabled vocal tradition representative of Celia Cruz and Omara Portuondo [who is creatively active even today].
What his recording captures is a flamboyant staging of Afro-Cuban music at the venerable Blue Note club in Tokyo, where both Mr Rubalcaba and Miss Nuviola offer in a flawless display of pianism and vocalastics aided by a group – and a wonderfully engaged audience – that follows their every glorious and vaunted musical strut in lock-step. Miss Nuviola is all power and passion. She sings with terrific bravura and agility as she captures the drama of life itself – from the mundane efforts of the street vendor in “El Manicero”, the love and misfortunes, hopes and dark longings of an heroic character in “Lágrimas Negras”. Her voice is androgynous – voluptuous in its upper reaches, reedy as a countertenor in its lower register.
Mr Rubalcaba is remarkably restrained throughout, but here he seems to pass the spotlight onto his vocalist, in and with whom all the drama of the music unfolds. However, every once and a while he lets fly briefly on “Rumba Callejera”, to begin with and then through the programme on “Rompiendo la Rutina” as well as on “Viento Y Tiempo”, for instance. As always, Mr Rubalcaba’s playing is aglow with unbridled virtuosity. But he also compliments that with the opposite of his pianism: with parts where he is slow, minimalist and wonderfully evocative. His touch is radiant; his fingers often fall on the keys like pebbles gently dropping onto water. And even short passages he draws us to the music, encouraging us to listen moment by moment.
The rest of the musicians in the group perform their roles perfectly, keeping us hypnotised with the spirited rhythmic support. Miss Nuviola’s sister, Lourdes Nuviola is quite the star herself in “Rumba Callejera” and Alfredo Lugo offers a broad vocal shoulder to lean on vocally throughout.
63rd Annual Grammy Awards Nominee · Best Latin Jazz Album
Track list – 1: Rumba Callejera; 2: El Güararey de Pastora; 3: El Manisero; 4: El Ciego; 5: Rompiendo la Rutina; 6: Bemba Colorá; 7: Lágrimas Negras; 8: Viento y Tiempo
Personnel – Aymée Nuviola: lead vocals; Gonzalo Rubalcaba: piano, synthesizers and percussion; Cristobal “El Profe” Verdechia: bass; Reinier Guerra: drums; Neiger “Majito” Aguilera: percussion; Kazuhiko Kondo: soprano saxophone [soli 4, 5], alto saxophone [solo 6]; Yanier Horta: soprano saxophone [ensemble on 1; solo on 8], alto saxophone [soli on 2 and 3; ensemble on 6]; Lourdes Nuviola: lead vocals  and backing vocals; Alfredo Lugo: backing vocals
Released – 2020
Label – Top Stop Music
Runtime – 1:02:49