Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Suite 4 y 20 (1993)

Share this:

NICK DERISO: While Rubalcaba was making troubling (if not downright boneheaded) political decisions, he was also proving to be an inspiring (and sometimes downright thrilling) young pianist.

Not long after Rubalcaba said the crippling Communist regime in his native Cuba wasn’t all that bad, after all — much to the consternation of expats like saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera — he issued “Suite 4 y 20” on Blue Note, his first recording with an all-Cuban working group.

Rubalcaba remains front and center, though, often sprinting through a terrific set. Better still are those moments when he backs off, breaking time then picking up the pieces again with a rare panache. Dizzy Gillespie, I think rightly, called him the best emerging jazz pianist he’d heard in the previous 10 years.

All of this probably comes as no surprise to his neighbors: Rubalcaba’s grandfather, Jacobo, was a conductor and the composer of “El Cadete Constitucional,” one of the most famous of songs in a local style called danzon. His dad Guillermo was a also a pianist, and play as a sideman in the orchestra of Enrique Jorrin, the guy credited with inventing the cha-cha. (Rubalcaba talks about how family influences his music in the interview embedded below.)

Rubalcaba takes these lessons and adds a dash of Diz, marrying Latin backbeats with bebop phrasing, then leavening it with wry popular selections: the old Bing Crosby standard “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” and Paul McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere.” (A deeper passion for the Beatles, in fact, was revealed through his separate interpretation of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”)

Throw in several pointed originals, and deft traditional tunes like “Perfidia,” and you have an album that is defiant, iconoclastic, yet tellingly artistic.

It’s a virtuosity that Rubalcaba — who remained a Cuban citizen, living in Santo Domingo, while other artists fled the tiny island nation’s gripping, state-imposed poverty — must have learned while walking the fine line of international politics.


Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
Share this:
Close