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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

Gonzalo Rubalcaba

By Michael Stone
Published December 15, 2006

Blue Note

Havana-born pianist and composer Gonzalo Rubalcaba hails from Cuban music royalty; his father Guillermo was pianist for the renowned Orquesta América, led by cha-cha-cha creator Enrique Jorrín. The younger Rubalcaba grew up trading piano and percussion licks with Beny Moré, Orquesta Aragón, members of Irakere (Chucho Valdés in particular) and Los Van Van. He caught Dizzy Gillespie’s ear in Havana while still a teenager, going on to establish his own touring combo, making international waves with bassist Charlie Haden in a celebrated 1989 concert (The Montreal Tapes, Verve). Rubalcaba’s phenomenal technique exhibits a reflexive sense of rhythm and dynamics, a powerful keyboard command, and a sublime mastery of classical harmony. Solo serves up several Rubalcaba originals and improvisations, together with Cuban classics (“Bésame Mucho,” “Silencio,” “Sueño de muñecas”), jazz standards (the Burke-Van Heusen chestnut “Here’s That Rainy Day” and Charlie Haden’s “Nightfall”), and Cuban lullabies (“Canción para dormir en el sillón” and “Canción de cuna del niño negro”). The piano sings under Rubalcaba’s tranquil, introspective touch, and even the most familiar material takes on new life in his hands.