Gonzalo Rubacalba: Paseo

Robert R. Calder

Gonzalo Rubacalba


Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2004-09-28
UK Release Date: 2004-09-27

This is something of a mixture, Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubacalba at times going all out to play, not Cuban music, but very much mainland North American jazz -- nothing especially Latin-influenced any more than a lot of such music. This can become complex and anonymous, and not just when he turns to a kind of Fender Rhodes noise on electronic keyboard.

Rubacalba opens each of the first two tracks with some very slow music not dreadfully distant in style from dear ole Ruben Gonzalez, whom I last heard of about two years ago, crippled with arthritis and being carried to the piano to play -- his retirement having been ended quite remarkably by the discovery of his talent for playing something other than jazz. I am aware that he left us thereafter. At other times, I am reminded by this piano, drums, saxophone and bass guitar quartet of a recording by Carla Bley's quartet that I reviewed very recently. Jose Armando Gola can do some of the things Steve Swallow can do. He continues to do them when Master Swallow (sounds a bit Shakespearean) would be doing more of the many things he does. The effect is in some places an unfortunate heaviness -- stolid, technically accomplished, but never breaking par. Jose Felipe Lamoglia is very accomplished on soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, and plays very well indeed on the first of these. Nor can I fault the drumming of Ignacio Barroa, and have already faulted the ensemble in very generalised terms which I would certainly apply to the pianist.

Imagine being a strolling freelance and finding this guy Rubacalba waiting as part of the local trio, with the Real Book on his music stand (the nominally, I suppose, under the counter document of all the tunes a man in his position is likely to be asked to play). If there's anything he doesn't know and which isn't in his Real Book, the visiting hornman will have a lead sheet to put beneath his nose. He will be able to cope with practically anything, and give the sort of support Sr. Lamoglia receives here. He might even be able to suggest some of his own tunes for incorporation in the guest's repertoire. If there's more time than usual, an especially gifted and brave peripatetic hornman might even try one of the pianist's originals on the audience, in tribute to the pianist and to remind the audience not to take their local boy for granted.

This is fine, but -- among the modest range of very accomplished local men touring tenorists and the like are thrilled to find -- it don't single out Gonzalo Rubacalba. And the hypothetical freelance hornman's enthusiasm might be somewhat dented by a deluge of maybe heartfelt but platitudinous waffle such as fills up the centre spread of this CD's artistically designed leaflet. The self-important twaddle about "Quasar" (track 8) having meant so very terribly much to the composer-pianist since he first conceived it as "Supernova II", and this explaining why it goes on for fourteen minutes (apparently it was already "huge," even then), might even knock the most robust Texan tenorist off form. There is even small print in the form of an entire page of the insert tendering Rubacalba's "Love and Special Gratitude" to literally dozens of people (I haven't counted 'em), from "Friends and Family" to Herbie Hancock and "Jim Anderson, who, unfortunately, could not be with us this time." Namedropper!

I mean, the record's all right, but at the level at which it asks to be assayed, and beside all the music currently available, it's nothing that special.

(For a statement of mostly an entirely different opinion from the present reviewer's humble one, there is the aforementioned centre spread of the CD's insert: mostly, because while it is also very p*l*t*c*lly c*rr*ct to deplore "the warrior spirit … of our culture" -- though surely a lot depends on what you do with any warrior spirit -- I'm with this very talented Cuban in deploring its "ever-growing materialism".).


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