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: www.g-rubalcaba.com
Label: 5Passion Records
Release date: March 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama