In recent recordings, Gonzalo Rubalcaba has reined in his considerable chops to pursue a more introspective direction, and Solo is a natural step in this direction. As the title hints, the recording finds Rubalcaba alone at his piano, ruminating. In this setting the pianist is more introspective than ever, frequently using silence as his means of expression. The only problem is, it doesn't necessarily work.
Rubalcaba has always worn his Afro-Cuban influences on his sleeves. This album is no different, with overt references in the song titles as well as in his playing. He plays a mixture of almost equal parts originals, improvisations, and pieces by others which fit into the overall theme of the album. And the mood often shifts, going from loud to soft, light to dark at the drop of a hat.
But ultimately, this album fails because of its lack of entertainment value. There just isn't enough here to merit multiple listens. "Rezo starts the disc off on a bright note, creating more of an atmosphere than a song. "Quasar continues on the right path with a realization befitting its title. But while Rubalcaba may be making a strong statement here, it falls on deaf ears due to its simple lack of a sound big enough to draw any attention to it.
That is not to say that his playing is bad. Rubalcaba is in fine form. Great solo pianists, however, are able to play intelligent music while also catering to the masses and drawing people into what they are saying. Playing solo (on any instrument) is always an extremely difficult task to accomplish that's only meant for the most creative of artists. For now, Rubalcaba should develop his ideas in more conventional settings. He still has time to become a great solo artist, and this writer has every confidence that he will.
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