This was group's first performance together, and the trio wobbled a bit on a cautious version of the standard "Body and Soul." But there was no lack of self-expression, and the responsive audience proved forgiving. Rodriguez started the rendition standing up, reaching into the piano to pluck its strings as bassist Charles Flores took a slow, ranging solo. After an impressionistic run through the melody, the pianist crafted a lyrical solo, culminating in upward-tumbling runs of 32nd notes reminiscent of virtuoso pianist Art Tatum. The tune drifted off with a modulating solo-piano outro.
Then the trio caught its strideon a tune centered on stumbling. And stumble it did, but in just the right way. Drummer Dafnis Prieto began the Rodriguez composition "Oxygeno," cast in halting 7/8 time, with a show-stopping solo that brought listeners to their feet. He found a groove, and Rodriguez and Flores fell in. Afterward, the pianist explained the idea behind "Oxygeno" as the synergy he feels between livingbreathing, in this caseand music. "I try to make my music sound as if it has life, you know?" he said. "It's called 'Oxygeno,' and it's about thatit's about respiration." Each measure contains an even four beats (breathing easy) then a jerky three (gasping).
In his solo, Rodriguez varied his entrance points, and explored the different spots within a measure where a line might peak or truncate. Prieto dropped a savvy string of bombs on the bass drum as Rodriguez tumbled forward. After this song, an old abuela in the front row came to the side of the stage and whispered something in Rodriguez' ear. Only the two of them know what she said, but it was clear she'd drawn a bit of invigorating oxygen from the vital music.
Each song on Rodriguez' MySpace profile boasted fewer than 1,000 plays before the New York show. That's a paltry number for someone whom record labels are suddenly fighting over. But as soon as one label receives the pianist's approval, a debut album should be due in short order, according to Rodriguez: "Quincy's gonna be the producer of the CD, and it's gonna be great," he said.
The pianist, who played a high-profile show at the Newport Jazz Festival earlier this month, would like to make New York his home someday, but for now he's happy to soak up the benefits of Jones' inner circle in Los Angeles. (With Max Roach's son just one of the many people coming backstage to congratulate Rodriguez between sets at the Jazz Standard, this is a good circle to be in.)
Rodriguez celebrates the improvisational foundation of jazz, and he says it lets him inject life's very sights, sounds, and feelings into the music he plays. Consequently, his music is bound to grow and change as he does. But there's one thing that will stay at the heart of it: "I always play jazz music, okay, but I am Latin peopleI just play my folklore," he said. "If we don't go to the roots we don't have the touch, we don't have the feeling, the accent. I like to go to the source, to the roots of my music in Cuba, and to the beginnings of African music, Latin music, or whatever. It's not that jazz is my 'favorite' music."
It's more that jazz sounds just like home, wherever that may be.