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Gonzalo Rubalcaba – XXI Century

Gonzalo Rubalcaba is probably one of the most gifted pianists in modern music. He is unequalled in his virtuosity and his expression and dynamic are of the highest order…



Gonzalo Rubalcaba is probably one of the most gifted pianists in modern music. He is unequalled in his virtuosity and his expression and dynamic are of the highest order. He is a deep thinker, often pondering about non-musical conundrums such as algebraic mysteries as well as theological ones. This colors the inflections of his playing, which has caused his musicality to soar high above mere virtuosity into a rarified realm so spiritual that it is often necessary to listen to him with eyes closed. Normally this practice would be reserved for listening to rare human beings such as bards and priests, and shamans. Perhaps Rubalcaba has now become a combination of all of these personalities and this has come to flavor the very essence of his music making him a very rare musician indeed as the spirituality of his playing knows no bounds indeed. He leans—body and soul—into every note, phrase and blithe and intricate, swirling line that he appears to coax out of the keys by breaking out into a dramatic form of vocalastics that mimics his darting fingers as they swarm all over the keyboard. With this extremely beguiling drama he erases boundaries between musical idioms; time and space seem to melt away and the listener is assumed into that ethereal plane commanded by the musical topography of Rubalcaba’s music.

XXI Century then is one of the most aptly titled records. It is a musical sojourn that finds Gonzalo Rubalcaba reaching out through decades of music as he re-imagines music that has been a part of the past of Africa, the Caribbean (including Cuba, Haiti) and other remarkable cultures that span the globe from Europe to the Americas. The re-imagination means that almost nothing remains the same but all of the music becomes a rhapsody dedicated to the evolution of humanity through sorrow and joy—from the calling of the Orishas by percussionist and Santeria specialist Pedro “Pedrito” Martinez through the drumming of Marcus Gilmore and Rubalcaba’s old friend and musical partner, Ignacio Berroa to the svelte licks and chordal work by guitarist and master musician Lionel Loueke and a bassist—Matt Brewer—who seems so completely enjoined by to the art and spirituality of Rubalcaba’s music.

The two CDs that make up the musical journey undertaken by Rubalcaba and his ensemble cover a wide swathe of musical topography in two dramatic suites that comprises five individual songs on each CD. There is the spectacular opening to proceedings, “Nueva Cubana” that calls the faithful to a prayerful observance of musical traditions that go back decades into the realm of Cuban pianism that occupies a unique place in Latin American music. Darting in and out of the impressionism of Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered” Rubalcaba ends CD 1 with a dramatic summoning of the spirits on “Oshun”. The drama of the journey continues on CD 2 from the fibrillating pulse of Paul Bley’s Moore to a catastrophic reinvention of the Cuban son on “Son XXI” and through the odyssey into the heart of Africa with “Alafia”. There is a flashback as Rubalcaba revisits Lennie Tristano and the mystique of bebop via Tristano’s classic, “Lennie’s Pennies”. Something of the Rubalcaba who first broke through on American soil decades ago emerges here in the dexterity of his playing although the lines here are more inventive, shorter and like melodic jabs to the inner ear. The music then becomes so much of Rubalcaba’s that it barely resembles the intricate piece that Tristano once wrote. The musicians return to “Oshun” as if to thank the spirits that guided their musical journey through this remarkable record on which Gonzalo Rubalcaba resets the bar on his music for all time to come.

Tracks: CD1: Nueva Cubana; Time Remembered; Fifty; Anthem; Oshun; Bonus Material. CD2: Moore; Son XXI; Alafia; Lennie’s Pennies; Oshun (short version); Bonus Material.

Personnel: Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Yamaha CFX acoustic piano, keyboards; Matt Brewer: acoustic double bass, arco bass, electric bass; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Ignacio Berroa: drums (CD2 – 1); Pedro “Pedrito” Martinez: percussion (CD1 – 1, 3, 5; CD2 – 3), voice (CD1 – 5); Lionel Loueke: guitar and voice (CD1 – 3; CD2 – 3); Gary Galimidi: electric guitar (CD1 – 1).

Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Official website:

Label: 5Passion Records

Release date: March 2012

Reviewed by: Raul da Gama

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá



Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Deo gratis…

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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