It's been ten years since pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba teamed up with Charlie Haden on Nocturne (Universal, 2001). Then a twenty-something Cuban virtuoso, Rubalcaba already had a decade of recordings behind him and was being compared to Keith Jarrett and Cecil Taylor. Now a Florida resident and with his own newly minted label, 5Passion, Rubalcaba releases Fé ... Faith, a solo collection and his finest work to date.
Rubalcaba's playing style has typically been energetic and fiery and while those elements are present, this is a more refined and melodic collection, mixing original compositions with the works of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Bill Evans. Underlying the melody is an ever present tension that slightly distorts familiar patterns. It's more like looking through a fishbowl than a prism. "Maferefun" is a perfect example of Rubalcaba's inventiveness. At times he appears to be two steps ahead of his own composition, with a multilayered backdrop complimenting a minimalist lead. The up-tempo "Improvisation 2" follows a similar model but the melody is weighted more lyrically.
Rubalcaba's treatment of Gillespie's "Con Alma (1)" is serene by comparison to the original. Nevertheless, the arrangement fills open spaces with notes that take on a profound sense of activity against the stark melody. Similarly, "Preludio Corto #2" is a demonstration of Rubalcaba's high regard for technique without the self-indulgence that could bury the classically influenced theme. Only "Improvisation 1" dispenses with a clearly identifiable theme for the sake of abstraction.
Rubalcaba has set the bar high for his new label. Technically, he is not exploring areas that are new to him, but his maturity has added new dimension to his playing. Rubalcaba's nomadic left hand is alternately aided or supplanted by his ability to intertwine complex melodies with the right. His sense of harmony owes as much to African elements as it does to European chord progressions. Rubalcaba's ability to incorporate those diverse components while flavoring the music with native Cuban ingredients is the combination that makes his music truly unique and consistently interesting.
Track Listing: Derivado 1; Maferefun; Improvisation 2 (Based On "Coltrane Changes"); Derivado 2; Con Alma 1; Preludio Corto #2 (Tu Amor Era Falso); Blue In Green 1; Oro; Joan; Joao; Yolanda; Blue In Green 2; Con Alma 3; Improvisation 1 (Based On "Coltrane Changes"); Derivado 3.
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