If Gonzalo Rubalcaba were a major league pitcher, he would be a seasoned veteran with the knowledge that to be effective he would have to be the master of multiple pitches. Gone are his rookie days when he could throw nothing but fastballs to get outs.
Same for Gonzalo Rubalcaba, jazz pianist. Twenty-five years ago he wowed audiences with his powerful attack and blinding speed. As his sound has matured, he has begun communicating with more subtlety, throwing audiences more off-speed and graceful pitches.
XXI Century is the second release from his own imprint, and like the previous solo outing, Fe...'Faith (5 Passion, 2011), he continues to reveal his expanding repertoire. This double disc plays off Cuban themes, percussive fusion, funk, and introspective improvisation.
Well chosen guests supplement his working trio of bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Rubalcaba's opening "Nueva Cubana" traverses a percussive attack to etch itself upon the electricity of Gary Galimidi's guitar. The sound is not so much a fusion of rock and Cuban jazz as it is a mutual path. Same with the funk laid down on "Fifty." Lionel Loueke's Afropop guitar bumps into Gilmore's groove, and Rubalcaba's Cuban vibe ties West Africa to North America and the Caribbean.
With the help of percussionist Pedro "Pedrito" Martinez, the groove stays firmly rooted in Cuba. "Son XXI" highlights the pianist's percussive attack, matching the clavé with the keyboarda dare to sit still.
While the pyrotechnics are present, the pianist also shows another side, covering Lennie Tristano's "Lennie Pennies" as Keith Jarrett might eschewing rhythmic emotion for a mathematical precision. His take on Paul Bley's "Moore" and Bill Evans' "Time Remembered" expose a very thoughtful side, where the pianist opens compositions up to lighter swing.
Rubalcaba has mastered a backdoor strike here, not to keep the listeners off balance but to display his full array of talents.
CD1: Nueva Cubana; Time Remembered; Fifty; Anthem; Oshun; CD2: Moore; Son XXI; Alafia; Lennie’s Pennies; Oshun (short version).
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: piano, Yamaha CFX, keyboards; Matt Brewer: acoustic double bass, arco bass, electric bass; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Ignacio Berroa: drums; Pedro "Pedrito" Martinez: percussion, voice; Lionel Leouke: guitar, voice; Gary Galimidi: electric guitar.