Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Solo

This is art at its most mature and engaging.

Latin Jazz pianists commonly have a multiple repertoire, including nightclub and jazzless (whether from their own native Cuba, Argentina or Brazil). There are also combinations ranging from merely jazz-influenced Latin (almost jazzless) to an almost Latinless jazz. In this case, there's a little of the last and not much more of the others, the main thing being a love of a repertoire whose beginnings were in Debussy's translation of Spanish musical material. Incorporated were previously taught harmonic lessons from Wagner, and learned touch and phrasing, evoking atmosphere, float lines and harmonies. Suddenly Debussy's piano muse said, on peut jouer cette musique espagnole au piano.

There was the medium which Debussy and Ravel pioneered in France, a piano language for Granados and Falla and more Latin Americans than I have heard of. Gonzalo Rubalcaba seems to be paying heartfelt tribute to Hispanic, indeed Cuban, music of the Western line which to some people matters personally, and at least equally, beside other music with no highbrow associations.

The sources of the music are various, but since Blue Note has provided your reviewer with ridiculously inadequate information, his references to these will be at best sketchy.

As to the music itself, the results are usually stunning, beginning with the Debussian miniature "Rezo (Praise Be)" and proceeding through the seven minutes of drama, which "Quasar" is. "Silencio" might be found as a ballad interlude in a classically trained jazz pianist's programme. It's referred to as "a Cuban bolero".

The first of four improvisations founded somehow on Coltrane's Giant Steps, "Improv #1", is a little looser in comparison; slighter, with stock phrasing, but a pause in concentration before the sublime quality of a one-minute lullaby worth waiting for. Incredible! After "Improv #2", which hints at jazz with concert-room sonorities and a striking ending, the second lullaby, "for a black child" floats into an even more amazing conclusion over a tolling left hand part.

"Faro (Beacon)" has a simple ostinato bass, a transition section and a loud climax; after a subdued passage, a bigger build prior to fuller, more complete culmination into which the simple left hand figure is worked, and within which it is developed with imagination. Then "Improv #3" proceeds with more consistent direction than its two predecessors into something like a hymn.

The miniature "Dream of the Dolls" is exquisite, a lullaby with even greater depth of atmosphere than anything prior. The fourth and final "Improv" develops into long linear passages for each hand, with a sense of leading on to somewhere: perhaps into "Prologo (Prologue to a Fantasy)" with a congenial intellectual playfulness alternating between something like Spanish piano music of a century ago, and the dance-hall.

"Here's that Rainy Day" appears as the object of a considerable challenge, since this wonderful jazz ballad could hardly have produced anything much different from parody. "Prologo" stayed in later nineteenth, early twentieth century Madrid, and wholly European. Yet now, with the same weight of fingering, dedicated to precise articulation of phrasing and especially rhythmic emphasis, comes the perfect jazz mainstream ballad performance, with the same restraint as elsewhere, ruling out any prospect of profligacy with notes, any tendency to variety which might issue in something more interesting. The pianist lets nothing emerge below a certain tension and strength of utterance. After which Charlie Haden's "Nightfall" comes as something of an unwinding, as what was very much needed after so much concentration and resistance to any superfluity. There has been no abandon, but an intense sounding, self-disciplined preoccupation with phrasing and with timing. This prepares everything for a "Besame Mucho" of intensely meditative character and slow deliberation. It is nothing but magnificent, and the seal on a very remarkable solo piano recital. This is art at its most mature and engaging.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.