Gonzalo Rubalcaba, solo piano – Fé…Faith – 5Passion SP-005, 69:37 ***1/2:
Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s latest solo piano release, Fé…Faith, is the first for his self-started label, 5Passion, and is a mostly meditative study in subtle contrasts and dedication to music, to friends and to family. Almost everything on the 15-track, nearly 70-minute outing has understated connections, from different readings of older tunes to multiple translations of specific pieces, and to themes or ideas which cross over from one number to the next. Even Rubalcaba’s new label name has a sly wit: 5Passion is cincopasión, which to the ear becomes syncopation.
Rubalcaba’s previous unaccompanied effort, Solo (Blue Note, 2005) had an austere quality with a programmed feel. Fé…Faith, even though it was prepared beforehand and recorded over four days, has the emotive warmth of an improvised living room recital. Part of the record’s success lies in the sparkling recording, which is translucent without being strict or exceedingly flawless, so that shades of shadow as well as bright elements can be heard, from fleet-fingered showpieces to delicate hues. But more importantly than the surface tone is Rubalcaba’s choices, which range from upbeat character sketches to somber evocations.
Anyone familiar with Rubalcaba knows his numerous influences permeate his many works. His strategy hasn’t altered. On Fé…Faith listeners are treated to music inspired by jazz heroes (two improvisations based on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps, two takes of Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green” and two renditions of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma”), material colored by Cuban classical music, as well as cuts immersed in the musical accents of the Caribbean Santeria religion.
After a brief prelude which has a theme regenerated several times during the rest of the program, Rubalcaba formally begins with the genteel, flowing “Maferefun Iya Lodde Me,” which has a lyrical cadence that mimics the three bata drum pulse prevalent during Cuban Santeria practices. A similar rhythmic motif filters through the other “Derivado” renderings as well as the sunny and complexly counterpointed “Oro.”
Rubalcaba’s classical roots shine through on a respectful if somewhat dry recitation of “Preludio Corto #2 (Tu Amor Era Falso),” written by Cuban composer Alejandro Garcia Caturla. While Rubalcaba’s performance is superb there is a lack of soulfulness that juxtaposes with the jazzier material. And it’s when Rubalcaba turns to jazz sources where he truly takes off. Coltrane is used as a jumping off point for “Improvisation 1” and “Improvisation 2,” where Rubalcaba balances his prodigious virtuoso technique with tantalizing harmonic and melodic chord changes and a rhythmic approach which brings to mind not only Coltrane but also pianists such as Geri Allen or Horace Parlan. Gillespie was an early Rubalcaba mentor, so it is no surprise to hear twinned takes of “Con Alma.” The first has a slightly dark deportment which is amplified in the second adaptation.
A highlight is a section of three celebratory pieces revisited from Rubalcaba’s 1999 Blue Note release, Inner Voyage. Here, Rubalcaba redoes “Joan,” “Joao” and “Yolanda Anas” – musical sketches of his three children – with an emphasis on youthful confidence, tonal lyricism and developmental maturity.
1. Derivado 1
2. Maferefun Iya Lodde Me
3. Improvisation 2 (based on Coltrane)
4. Derivado 2
5. Con Alma 1
6. Preludio Corto #2 (Tu Amor Era Falso)
7. Blue in Green 1
11. Yolanda Anas
12. Blue in Green 2
13. Con Alma 3
14. Improvisation 1 (based on Coltrane)
15. Derivado 3
— Doug Simpson