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Ruben Gonzalez: Introducing...Ruben Gonzalez

Derrick A. Smith By

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Most Cuban releases these days evoke the atmosphere of the dance hall, or the veranda of an Havana dwelling, depending on whether the music is in the big-band dancing format or one of the more folkloric string-oriented styles. This premiere full-length by Ruben Gonzalez, however, brushes the sepia and blues of an early 20th Century salon performance. Gonzalez' virtuosic style, lyric and harmonically-full, reveals the depth of 19th Century Romantic influence on the arc of Cuban music as well as the better-noticed African and Spanish folk elements.

Unlike some of the other World Circuit recordings in this series, the disc's strength is not in the more syncopated tracks, represented here by "La Enganadora" and "Cumbanchero". The septuagenarian Gonzalez describes his love of music as centering around melody, harmony, and variety - Introducing... steadily progresses along this preferred trajectory, the shift arriving in Gonzalez' own "Melodia Del Rio", a bolero reminiscent specifically of some of Bud Powell's less-fevered performances and in general of the jazz produced just before bebop became standardized.

Gonzalez has maintained his form and technique as Havana has crumbled through the years of revolution, embargo, and government neglect, working out on any tuned piano he could find. If this disc feels anachronistic, as if it should have been recorded on 78 rpm, it also reveals the personality of its primary performer, who ends his performance with "Como Siento Yo", "how he feels" condensed into a brief solo piano elegy. It is a powerful two minutes, as he evokes his undefined sadness, the arthritis in his fingers, a setting which can be opened with the keys.

Tracks: La Enganadora; Cumbanchero; Tres Lindas Cubanas; Melodia Del Rio; Mandinga; Siboney; Almendra; Tumbao; Como Siento Yo.

Personnel: Ruben Gonzalez (piano); Orlando 'Cachaito' Lopez (bass); Manuel 'Guajiro' Mirabal (trumpet); Amadito Valdes (timbales); Roberto Garcia (bongos, guiro, cowbell); Carlos Gonzalez (congas); Alberto 'Virgilio' Valdes (maracas); Carlos Puisseaux (guiro); Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, Manuel 'Puntillita' Licea, Antonio 'Maceo' Rodriguez (chorus vocals); Richard Egues (flute).

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