Paseo, the title of virtuoso Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba's first album as a leader in three years, means "walk" or "stroll" in English.
And that's what he does throughout the record with his New Cuban Quartet.
Rubalcaba examines his musical roots as if he were walking through his hometown for the first time in many years. He plays tunes that conjure up images of exuberant youths at local playgrounds, intense teenagers exposed to the newness of the streets, and adults amidst familiar surroundings. It's a stroll that varies in tempo as it reflects the conflicting emotions of any homecoming: often joyous, occasionally agonizing.
The album begins with "El Guerrillero," a Cuban folk song. Rubalcaba states the opening melody with the spry, dancing touch of a child before soloing in an introspective Bill Evans style. Then he gleefully deconstructs the rhythmic and harmonic structure of the most clichéd Afro-Cuban melody ever (a syncopated minor triad arpeggio) while comping underneath a playful saxophone solo by Luis Felipe Lamoglia.
A teenaged Rubalcaba used to play 20th century Cuban composer Hilario Gonzalez's composition "Preludio en Conga, #1" as a respite from Mozart and Beethoven. His homage to Gonzalez quotes the aforementioned piece on acoustic piano before exploding into a separate electric fusion workout. Lamoglia and electric bassist Jose Armando Gola provide inspired solos.
Rubalcaba also reprises tunes he has recorded before. "Bottoms Up" burns with a righteous Afro- Cuban groove from Gola and drummer Ignacio Berroa. "Meanwhile" continuously surprises as its winding structure unveils peculiar syncopations, dynamic changes, and inscrutable solos. The gorgeous ballad "Sea Change" emphasizes the quartet's melodic sophistication, harmonic space, and clean rhythmic lines. The haunting "Santo Canto" is even leaner than "Sea Change."
But it's the piece "Quasar," originally called "Supernova II" on Rubalcaba's last album Supernova, that sums up Paseo 's intent. Although there are new compositions on the record, Rubalcaba focuses on examining his previous musical choices through the eyes of a more mature musician. His stroll through the past unveils different paths and possibilities that show his development. Instead of being a supernova, or a short-lived burst of energy, he has become a quasaran older celestial entity that possesses great power.
Track Listing: El Guerrillero; Preludio in Conga #1/Homage to Hilario; Bottoms Up; See, So Far; Paseo Con Fula; Meanwhile; Encantation; Quasar; Los Bueyes.
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