When Cuban piano master Rubén González
was brought out of self-imposed retirement, at age seventy seven, in 1996, for a recording by the Afro Cuban All Stars
, A Toda Cuba Le Gusta,
he had not played in over ten years, and did not even own a piano. After hearing González on those sessions, producer/guitarist Ry Cooder
invited him to appear on the Buena Vista Social Club
recordings that same year. The rest, is history.
Seizing upon the creative excitement that was brewing inside Havana's famed EGREM studio at the time, World Circuit Records producer Nick Gold, took the opportunity to record González in his debut as leader. Introducing...Rubén González
, was recorded live in the studio, without overdubs, over a two day period, and captures the talent of a man emotionally motivated by his emphatic return. Re-issued by World Circuit on double 180 gram vinyl to celebrate its' twentieth anniversary, the record stands as a testament to the González legacy, and should garner a new audience for this giant of Cuban music.
While listening to González, one must also appreciate his immense influence over Cuban music since his association with Arsenio Rodriguez back in 1943. Rodriguez changed the instrumental format of the son Cubano, into son montuno, by replacing the traditional guitar, with a piano, which played the guajeo/montuno, (broken chords in syncopated patterns, over a repeated melody) thus expanding contrapuntal and harmonic possibilities. González was the pioneering pianist who developed this percussive lyrical technique that would go on to influence the following generation of Cuban pianists, as well as Eddie Palmieri
, and numerous salsa and Latin jazz pianists.
The record opens with the cha cha cha "La Engañadora," trumpeter Manuel Mirabal introducing González, who plays his signature elaborate patterns. The 2/3 clave launches the rumbero inspired "Cumbanchero," as the master shows his dexterity playing with velocity. Having been schooled in formal danzón interpretations, González reveals his intimate knowledge of this classical Cuban music on "Tres Lindas Cubanas," with distinguished and elegant arpeggios. The revered bolero is confirmed to be his forte as "Melodia Del Rio," "Siboney," and "Siento Como Yo," are given the touch of finesse required to properly perform these sophisticated compositions.
The intoxicating and captivating rhythm of the guaracha "Mandinga," (aka "Bilongo" and/or "La Negra Tomasa") has become a well-covered Cuban standard, this version takes it back to its primordial roots, played by a man who was there. The descarga has been a cultural trait of Cuba, as musicians like to jam and improvise around an established bass line or "Tumbao." This track is highlighted by Amadito Valdés on timbales, anchored by Cachaito Lopez on bass. The jamming continues on the previously unreleased "Descarga Ruben Y Cachaito," a stimulating spontaneous interplay, as the group brings the set to a close.
Though Rubén González went on to record several records after this one, before his passing in 2003, his place in musical history was assured by the celebrated sessions he did in Egrem studios during 1996. He was a charismatic gentleman, blessed with the longevity to enjoy a late flowering career, when he attained the admiration of an appreciative global audience. His fluid technical ability, coupled with his encyclopedic knowledge of Cuban music, solidifies his stature amongst influential Latin pianists of the twentieth century.