Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Avatar – Blue Note Records

by | Sep 1, 2008 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Avatar – Blue Note Records 0946 3 84185 28, 65:19 ****:

(Gonzalo Rubalcaba – piano and keyboards; Yosvany Terry – saxophones and percussion; Mike Rodriguez – trumpet and flugelhorn; Matt Brewer – bass;  Marcus Gilmore – drums)

Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba has dazzled American audiences since the late 1980s with his monstrous chops. His Tatumesque lightning-fast piano excursions have blended both the Cuban and American jazz genres in a musical stew that dazzles the listeners’ senses. Gonzalo has featured his talent mostly sans horns in trio settings. So it is with anticipation that he branches out with a small ensemble issue, Avatar.

Looking in Retrospective starts out with Gonzalo’s piano musings then blasts off with Terry’s sax and Rodriguez’s trumpet. Marcus Gilmore’s drumming is hard-charging and heavily percussive. The track varies from hard bop to avant and back to lyrical. It’s a major departure from prior Rubalcaba CDs where the piano was center stage. This is It continues the intensity but has an undeniable funkiness and at 12:30 the band really gets to stretch out. Gonzalo drives the band and the rhythm section in turn pushes the horns. You get the feeling that this track could have many different readings depending on the band’s moods.

Bassist Brewer’s Aspiring to Normalcy, the longest track here at over thirteen minutes, is much more cerebral and heavy in colorings with Gilmore heavy into the cymbals, and the horns in a lyrical exploring mood. Rubalcaba’s take on Horace Silver’s Peace is taken as a simply beautiful ballad and Matt Brewer is upfront in the mix.

Hip Side is very contemporary and a nice change for Gonzalo, as again the ensemble reading is stressed, not the pianist’s prowess. Rubalcaba’s tribute to John McLaughlin, Infantil – the only CD track penned by the bandleader – is striking for its mood changes. Gonzalo ends with a reflective Preludio Corto No. 2, which brings us full circle back to prior Rubalcaba issues, with the horns’ presence reminding us of the new journeys that this pianist is taking. Avatar is a welcome change for Gonzalo, and leaves the listener wondering where this brilliant pianist will head next. Highly recommended!

Looking in Retrospective, This is It, Aspiring to Normalcy, Peace, Hip Side, Infantil, Preludio Corto No. 2

– Jeff Krow

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