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On Paseo, Gonzalo Rubalcaba's latest venture, the esteemed Cuban pianist plays electric keyboards on some tracks, and there's an electric bassist on every track. The skeptical listener might conclude that Rubalcaba has finally "sold out" and made a fusion record. There's hardly a backbeat on any part of Paseo. But it's certainly a form of fusion, uniting urgent modern jazz with the rhythms and melodies of Cuban folk forms. The result is something new, even audacious, and utterly refreshing.
Rubalcaba plays with his customary élan, complete with trademark dazzling technical displays. But his improvisations have opened up. He uses space, spare single note lines, and rich chordal passages as well as speed, making his solos vastly rewarding. And lyricism informs his compositions, so the listener now has the sprightly dance of "Paseo Con Fula" as well as the headlong charge of "Quasar." And his quartet of Cuban musicians is fully up to the task of playing this sometimes intricate music.
For example, the interplay between the leader and drummer Ignacio Berroa is highly successful, even at the skyrocketing pace of "Homage To Hilario," in which Berroa lays down a powerful swing at a very fast tempo. And saxophonist Felipe Lamoglia is another serious musician, fluent and expressive on all his instruments.
However, the key to Paseo is bassist Armando Gola. He doesn't engage in conventional walking, nor does he play conventional ostinati for the purpose of maintaining a groove. Instead, his ostinati are a segment of the tune, played in a rhythm that might sound contrary to what the rest of the band is playing. Deeper listening reveals that not to be the case. Gola subtly varies his note placements, and as the song form unfurls, you'll hear that Gola's lines fit right in.
With Paseo, Gonzalo Rubalcaba celebrates his roots in Cuban music, and he's inviting us to join him. This album is excellent, well worth the trip.
Track Listing: El Guerrillero, Prelude In Conga/Homage To Hilario, Bottoms Up, See So Far, Paseo Con Fula, Meanwhile, Encantation, Quasar, Los Bueyes.
Personnel: Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano, keyboards, percussion; Felipe Lamoglia, soprano, alto, tenor saxophones; Armando Gola, electric bass; Ignacio Berroa, drums.