Ruben Gonzales: Chanchullo


By Katy Widder

The now famous Cuban pianist Ruben Gonzalez has done it again. At 83 he gives the world a new Cuban album that shouldn’t be missed. His album Chanchullo is as good, if not better than anything else he’s recorded.

Gonzales once played piano with the best in Cuba, including La Orquesta Paulina, Conjunto Camayo, Los Hermanos, Raul Planes and Mongo Santamaria. That was in the heyday of Cuban music, during the 1940s. Since the ‘40s he’s played with many greats, but he became a celebrity in the United States after playing in the Buena Vista Social Club, a group that was created with the help of Ry Cooder, who said that Gonzalez is, “the greatest piano soloist I have ever heard in my life.”

The United States should be extremely thankful to Cooder for rediscovering this Cuban legend and introducing him to us. Wim Wenders should also be thanked for producing a vivid documentary of the Buena Vista Social Club. In the film audiences are introduced to a delightful 80-something-year-old man who can still play with the best of them. Perhaps the most memorable scene is when Gonzalez is playing a piano in a dance studio and all the little ballerinas gather around to listen to his tunes. The scene captures the pure joy Gonzalez experiences when he plays. And that joy can also be heard just by listening to his new album.

Chanchullo is not anything revolutionary. Instead it continues the classic Cuban tradition that Gonzalez has been a part of since the 1040s. It was recorded at Egrem studios in Havana and the music was drawn from repitoire Gonzales has been playing for years. The musical styles include danzon, son montuno, cha cha cha, guajira and descarga. An orchestra of talented musicians accompanies Gonzales on instruments including the double bass, timbales, congas, bongos, clave, trumpet, trombone, guitar, tres, flute and violin just to name some. There are also guest appearances from Richard Egues on flute, Ibrahim Ferrer and Teresita Garcia on vocals and Papi Oviedo on tres.

The recording was done in a studio, but reflects a live club-like atmosphere. His style is smooth, yet sounds improvisational. From lyrical, dreamy ballads to fast-paced dance tunes, Gonzalez plays each note into something intimate and intense.

This album continues to prove that Gonzalez is still a reigning musician in the Cuban world, and the rest of the world for that matter. Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or wanting to lounge around on a Sunday morning, reading the New York Times and sipping coffee, this album will take you to another place, where the sun is shining and the breeze from the ocean is stirring the palm trees.

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