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Volcan: Volcan

Dan Bilawsky By

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Whenever a musician strikes out on their own by forming their own label they're addressing the issue of control and consolidation. Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba went one better when he created 5passion. He consolidated, took control, and diversified his offerings. First came Fe (5passion, 2011)—a sanctified solo piano date that All About Jazz's Dan McClenaghan rightly called "an eighty-minute jazz prayer." XXI Century (5passion, 2012)—a trio-plus-guests date—followed, providing an expansive look at the places where rock, funk, Cuban traditions, and African ideals merge. Now, after releasing and performing on trumpeter Alex Sipiagin's winning From Reality And Back (5passion, 2013), Rubalcaba returns with this fiery, collectively-operated quartet.

Volcan is a formidable foursome built around singular musicians that are architects of a Latin jazz fusion sort. These musicians have delighted in defying expectations, erasing musical boundary lines and drawing new ones that suit them. Rubalcaba has worked the stylistic seams with guitarist Al Di Meola and bassist Charlie Haden; drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez has broadened the Latin drumming landscape through his work with Rubalcaba, pianist Michel Camilo, and his own Italuba project; percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo has put his hands to good use for everybody from trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie to Paul Simon; and bassist Jose Armando Gola has laid the groundwork for Latin luminaries like trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and on-the-rise artists like pianist Eldar Djangirov. Individually, each man is viewed as a mighty musical stallion. Together, they possess enough horsepower to tear a house from its foundation.

Hairpin turns, energetic eruptions, rumbling rhythms and a ceaseless flow of ideas mark Volcan's more muscular material ("Pon La Clave"), but it's not all about athleticism and power. Grace and poise win out on both versions of "Corscario"—one featuring guest vocalist Maridalia Hernandez and the other putting Rubalcaba in the role of melody maker—and a form of shake-your-hips friendliness and excitement comes to the fore on the album-ending "Ano Novo."

If Sun Ra had Cuban origins instead of an American-cum-Saturnian background, he might have come up with something like Volcan's take on "Salt Peanuts." Some may be tempted to write this brief performance off as a tongue-in-cheek take on the song, but that would be a mistake; it's too darn propulsive and dynamic to be cast aside as a throwaway. Every now and then, on the surface it appears the band may simply be spinning its wheels ("Sin Punto..."), but the surface isn't everything. Very often the subterranean happenings are of greater interest than what's moving along above.

Hidalgo's mile-a-minute rumblings, Hernandez's pan-Latin grooves, Gola's rhythmic-cum-melodic bass work, and Rubalcaba's alternately searching, storming and sagacious playing fuse together in this powerhouse unit. Rubalcaba may be using each outing on 5passion to present something different right now, but this lineup deserves a repeat visit on record somewhere down the line.

Track Listing: Volcan; Volcan Durmiente; Pon La Clave; Corsario; Sin Punto...; Salt Peanuts; Corsario; Ano Novo.

Personnel: Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: drums; Jose Armando Gola: fretless electric bass, fretted electric bass; Gonzalo Rubalcaba: acoustic piano, electric piano, synthesizers; Giovanni "Manenguito" Hidalgo: congas, percussion; Maridalia Hernandez: vocals (7).

Title: Volcan | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: 5Passion

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