Cuban Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba burst onto the American jazz scene in the early 1990s with his over-caffeinated piano gymnastics. To be fair to the young performer, he had musical talent beyond his years, and with the State Departments restrictions on his appearances in the US he would squeeze an entire tour into one night’s concert. Since being allowed to move to the U.S. his music has relaxed, allowing him to develop at a somewhat sane pace.
He recorded Flying Colors, a session of duets with saxophonist Joe Lovano in 1997, a synthesizer and keyboards album Antiqua ala Chick Corea, and most recently Nocturne (Verve), a romantic slow-dance session of Cuban and Mexican tunes with Charlie Haden. Rubalcaba has branched out from his pyrotechnic-laden beginning as if in defiance of his critics to prove that he has soul.
Supernove proves the pianist has plenty of heart rooted in a traditional Cuban music past and a head pointed into a diverse North American future. This recording starts at the Buena Vista Social Club, performing music of his paternal grandfather Jacobo Rubalcaba. “El Cadete Constituitional” (or The Constituitional Cadet) opens as a throwback to early Cuban jazz, only to march to an ending with a very modern synthesizer solo. Rubalcaba’s roots run deep, and he displays them with much pride here. He applies the Mexican standard “Alma Mia” with an honest melancholy lyricism, and takes back the promise of bebop on “LaVoz Del Centro.” He hasn’t lost his desire for furious runs as he ignites on the aptly titled “The Hard One,” with bit of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” sampled for flavor. The title track parts one and two, performed by a very tight trio, sum up his musical stance this new millenium. He utilizes styles from his native land to Africa and Europe in a jazz tradition of varying rhythms and time into a wow-factored trio interplay. The record closes with the environmental piece “Oren” (or Pray) a drums heavy piano/synthesizer piece with a nod to the future.