Thursday, November 25, 2004

CD: Gonzalo Rubalcaba and New Cuban Quartet – Paseo

Gonazlo Rubalcaba and New Cuban Quartet – Paseo.

Forty-one year-old Cuban-born Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba has released his 23th recording with Paseo this year.

Rubalcaba met bassist Charlie Haden in 1986 and through Haden, he began an association with Blue Note Records. Haden’s association with Cuban music is well known through his Liberation Music Orchestra recordings from the Apart from playing with Haden, he’s also played with Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Lovano, Jack Dejohnette and many other luminaries.

On the opening track the Latin-flavoured El Guerrillero (The Soldier), the drums beg to turn on a dime a few times, but they simply stamp out at the same pace. The instrumentation is fine but the track doesn't stand out.

What’s most striking about this CD is that Gonzalo Rubalcaba is a master technician of diverse styles. Witness his sublime balladry on Sea Change. This is a style he displayed when I saw Charlie Haden perform in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2002.

The major fault with this disc, though, is that it doesn’t sound improvised enough. There’s too much structure and the compositions aren’t terribly interesting. They do have the sheen of modernity, but when you listen below that layer, there’s little that qualifies as being memorable. There’s not enough tension and interplay between the otherwise capable musicians. At times, some of the tracks sound “busy” without having an engaging groove to them.

As an interpreter of jazz, Rubalcaba is as good as anyone. He knows how to cut loose and deftly swing. On Paseo, regardless of the inspiration behind the compositions, he’s holding back, in fact, the music gives me a stifling sensation. If you read a lot of the reviews of his albums, they often say similar things: great chops, masterful technician, not so memorable composer.

If you really want to hear Rubalcaba doing some mind-blowing piano playing, you owe it to yourself to check out Discovery - Live At Montreau from 1991. Listen to the fantastic first track, Monk's "Well, You Needn't" and be prepared to be bowled over by its virtuosity and electricity. It's widely regarded as one of the best major label debuts, with drummer Paul Motian and Charlie Haden on the bass.

If Gonzalo Rubalcaba were returning to my town, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to buy tickets and I would recommend him to jazz fans. I would only hope, though, that he would shed his shackles and do some serious swinging.

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