Release date: October 7, 2022
Label: 5Passion Records
Turning Point is the new album by GRAMMY-Award winning pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Turning Point introduces a new trio, Trio D’été, which features stalwart bassist Matt Brewer and star drummer Eric Harland. The second in a planned trilogy of trio recordings, this new release follows in the footsteps of Rubalcaba’s Skyline, which won the GRAMMY award last year for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.
During his 35 years as a recording artist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba has been averse to repeating himself from one album to the next, adhering to a tenet once summarized by Wayne Shorter as “everything that’s happened is a work in progress,” or, as Duke Ellington suavely put it, “my favorite recording is the next one.” Along those lines, in recent years – as on Skyline with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette, Rubalcaba has retrospected on earlier experiences, reconsidering the raw materials and approaching them with an attitude of speculative creativity.
Those imperatives guided Rubalcaba in 2018 as he conceived Turning Point, recorded in Miami a month after Skyline. Like Skyline, Turning Point demonstrates Rubalcaba’s protean approach to the piano trio, a configuration he’s investigated before the public gaze since his 1990s Blue Note recordings with Carter, DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, John Patitucci, Jeff Chambers, Paul Motian and Ignacio Berroa.
Although Rubalcaba has deep roots with both musicians, the Rubalcaba-Brewer-Harland configuration was a new one circa 2018. Turning Point is Brewer’s fifth recording with Rubalcaba since 2007, when he played on Avatar, a quintet session with alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and drummer Marcus Gilmore on which Rubalcaba premiered “Infantil,” a reimagined version of which opens this album. He’s subsequently performed on 5Passion productions XXI Century, which featured the Rubalcaba’s trio with Brewer and Marcus Gilmore; Suite Caminos, an ancient-to-future evocation of Afro-Yoruba ceremonial; and Charlie, Rubalcaba’s bolero-centric homage to Haden.
Rubalcaba’s maiden voyage with Harland also occurred in 2007, when they joined Chris Potter and Dave Holland in a “Monterey All Stars” unit that toured the U.S. during that summer and recorded one album. Explaining his thinking about their second encounter, Rubalcaba says: “I wanted to do a trio record of original music, based in the language of jazz, not completely straight ahead, but bringing in other elements that are part of my musical memory and my personality as a musician. I thought that Eric could help me rhythmically – his background is not only straight ahead, but also from R&B – he plays drums in a very modern way, which is what I was looking for.
While Skyline was a collaborative effort featuring compositions from Rubalcaba, Carter and DeJohnette, on Turning Point, Rubalcaba takes on a more pivotal role as both composer and producer. “Of course, I put my faith in Eric and Matt, and I wanted them to make that music like this is their music, too. They’re both serious about being up to date and informed about everything happening at the moment, not only here, but different points around the world. They have American music, of course, but also music from India, from Brazil, from Africa, from musicians I don’t know. This is healthy, because you can tell them, ‘this is my idea, and I’d like to have that sound and go in that direction,’ and their level of reference allows them to connect quickly with that idea.”
As an example, Rubalcaba cites his tour de force treatment of the aforementioned “Infantil,” dedicated to guitar legend John McLaughlin, who, he says, “has always had the feeling of someone who has remained fresh and active and curious over so many decades, keeping the attitude of a young rebel.” The structure contains on-a-dime metric modulations from funk to Latin to straight-ahead.
Another highlight is “Otra Mirada (Another Look)” an original bolero that debuted on Supernova (Blue Note), released the same year as Nocturne, for which Rubalcaba convened Nuyorican bass master Carlos Henriquez, then 20, and Cuban drum titan Ignacio Berroa. For Trio D’été, Rubalcaba presents a completely reharmonized treatment, also including different harmonic progressions in the solo section.
“Bolero was everywhere at my house and with my family in Havana,” Rubalcaba says. “For a long time I’ve presented my relationship with the bolero while changing as much as I can harmonically and rhythmically – to look in another way at what bolero is or has been until today. As a style, I think of the bolero as a very European music with a very Latin rhythm section. The melody can be made by an Italian composer from the 18th or 19th century, and harmonies are coming sometimes from jazz music or American music, or even European music in its most classical way. Then the bongos, congas and maracas are behind, changing the rhythmic colors. On ‘Otra Mirada’ if we eliminate the drums and leave only bass and piano, it could easily be chamber music. The drums transform it, take the music in another direction.”
Brewer’s precise, deliberate, resonant tumbao introduces “Ikú” (the Yoruba term for “death” or “la muerte”), whose stately, bittersweet melody Rubalcaba extracted from a chant he’d heard in childhood at funeral ceremonies. Harland sound-paints throughout on mallets. “It appears always in a sad mood when you’ve lost someone or are remembering someone who passed away,” Rubalcaba says of the piece. “At the same time, the melody of the line and the spirit of that music sounds beautiful to me. Everything is in there – the darkness or the bright side, the sweetness and beauty or the sad and nostalgic part. How you appreciate the music depends on the day, the moment you’re living.”
Portions of “The Hard One” sound like two drummers having a conversation. Rubalcaba first recorded it on the 1998 album Inner Voyage, when tenor titan Michael Brecker joined his Jeff Chambers-Ignacio Berroa trio; two years later he revisited it with Henriquez and Berroa on Supernova. In the booklet notes for Inner Voyage Rubalcaba wrote that Chambers kept referring to the piece as “the hard one” during rehearsals for a Japanese tour that preceded the album, and “we decided that the name was appropriate.” He added: “…it’s connected to some of Chick Corea’s work during the early ’80s; I also connect it with the language developed by composers like Berg, Bartok, Stravinsky and Schoenberg.”
He concludes the proceedings with the brisk, playful, interactive, self-descriptively titled “Joy, Joie,” Rubalcaba’s only composition written specifically for Trio d’été. He describes it as an ode to “a spirit that cannot be dark and cannot be down, that’s bright, filled with light. It’s probably the least formally complex piece on the record – two sections, like typical standards in American music, AABA, and then solos, and then the coda. That’s it.”
Winding down our conversation, Rubalcaba revealed what his fan base can expect for volume three of this three-part extravaganza intended to showcase “three different trios, different projections, different language, different sounds and different ways to approach the music.” It will be an album of “Latin fusion” featuring “players from Latin culture – not only Cuba.” “My plan is to bring new original compositions for this album, not music I’d already done and want to recompose,” Rubalcaba says. “That will be the challenge.”
Release date: September 17, 2021
Label: 5Passion Records
GRAMMY WINNER: BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM, 64th GRAMMY AWARDS
Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba's latest album, Skyline, marks his eight release on his co-founded label, 5Passion Records. Skyline is the first release from a planned trilogy of piano trio albums for 5Passion.
Rubalcaba — raised and educated in Havana, where he played professionally as both a drummer and a pianist before emigrating first to the Dominican Republic in 1991 and then to Miami in 1996 — tells celebrated jazz journalist Ted Panken in Skyline’s liner notes that early gigs with the giants of the artform like bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette turned out to be his, “real school, [his] portal to a different relationship with American musicians and American music.” So when Rubalcaba had a new trio project in mind, one rife with Afro-Cuban rhythms but informed by years studying what musical conversation between musicians should sound and feel like, he knew he needed sidemen who could pull off both elements with equal parts feel and erudition.
Carter and DeJohnette had to round out this trio.
“No matter what music you put in their hands,” Rubalcaba tells Panken in the liners, “at the end they convert that music into something personal. That to me has an amazing value.
“But at the same time they understand their function at every moment…. Ron and Jack know how to keep their sound, their spirit, while fulfilling at a very high level your request as a producer or musical director or composer. They combine a special talent and a strong personality with a high level of consciousness of responsibility—everything together.”
While there’s never any doubt Rubalcaba is the lead sonic architect here, it’s evident on all nine cuts, as Panken notes, that he “didn’t want this to be a “Gonzalo record per se; he wanted to create a conversation from multiple points of view.” New perspectives are applied to the familiar, as each musician offers up a pair of his own previously recorded tunes to the trio’s (re)interpretive lens. For an illustration of the group’s methodology, take Carter’s “Gypsy,” a tune originally released on 1979’s Parade with Chick Corea (piano), Tony Williams (drums), and Joe Henderson (tenor sax). After a newly constructed preface, Carter reprises a walking bass line that calls to mind the original—though this version is at a slightly more relaxed tempo. Less frenetic and in ways steadier and more self-assured, this one retains the original’s probing, prodding and exploratory nature. If Parade’s was a showcase for Henderson, Skyline’s version is a showcase for Rubalcaba, as he plays both Joe Henderson’s lead lines and Chick Corea’s comping lines. The latter third of the tune spotlights DeJohnette and, secondarily, Carter—before Rubalcaba returns for one last lightning run. It closes with a sparse, contemplative dialogue that hits like a deep, awakening stretch—the musical manifestation of end-stage savasana.
Hypnotic and wistfully circular, “A Quiet Place” is the other contribution from Carter’s seemingly infinite catalogue. It holds special meaning because DeJohnette also played on the first incarnation, from 1978’s A Song for You. But perhaps more meaningfully, this one speaks to the risks Rubalcaba—who’s always had the insane facility to play at breakneck speeds—took to develop as both a player and composer. “I put myself in contact with different spaces and musical visions,” he tells Panken in the liners. “Even where you are not totally comfortable with [different] ideas, you can always learn. Life is a palette with many tastes and flavors and colors and moments.” Carter’s playing makes the visceral richness of this piece possible; his framing allows Rubalcaba to plumb not just depths of feeling but also to communicate the kind of breadth of emotion that separates really good art from everything else.
The first of DeJohnette’s offerings is “Silver Hollow,” a tune the drummer recorded first in 1978 with his New Directions group, then 13 years later, with Rubalcaba, on the latter’s The Blessing. Deliberate and inherently narrative, this one tells a story, but that story’s construction is left to the imagination of the listener—almost as if the musicians leave it to you to choose your own noirish adventure. Then there’s “Ahmad the Terrible,” inspired by DeJohnette’s formative years in Chicago, when, as a young gigging pianist—that’s right, Rubalcaba isn’t the only multi-instrumentalist here—he learned by watching Ahmad Jamal at his fabled Second City haunts. Presented almost scenically, like a theatrical number, this one displays the combination packages—the sweetness and muscly melodicism, the tension and release, the insouciance and the sober weightiness—for which Jamal is so beloved.
Rubalcaba sources his original offerings from a pair of his ’90s releases for Blue Note. “Promenade” is the first, a most appropriate selection that originally appeared on 1998’s Inner Voyage as a dedication to Ron Carter. No doubt the hope was that, one day, Carter himself would be able to play this one. That day has come, and the result proves worth the wait. Rubalcaba and DeJohnette both take turns out front, but, mostly here, they accompany Carter, whose ideas are many, never superfluous, and always expressed with an elegant authority that need not be explicitly stated. With “Siempre Maria,” Skyline’s penultimate tune, Rubalcaba presents a comprehensive harmonic and structural overhaul of the ballad/bolero that originally appeared on 1992’s Suite 4 Y 20. It’s both meandering and focused, as though Rubalcaba and co. are hard at work at deciphering that foundational Latin American mystery, amor.
Two Cuban standards occupy coveted slots; “Lágrimas Negras,” a bolero from the ’20s, opens the album, and “Novia Mia” sits square in the middle of Skyline’s nine tracks. On the former, Carter hops out front early, soloing with a series of playful, referential riffs, which includes a memorable nod to Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” On the latter, Rubalcaba bears his soul, with a capacious solo rendition of this iconic Cuban ballad that lends credence to the old cliché that the space between notes can communicate just as much as the notes themselves.
The bluesy closer, “RonJackRuba,” testifies to the notion that it takes a little luck to make a great record. This one’s the product of a spontaneous collective improvisation that the trio didn’t even know was being recorded. The engineer Jim Anderson had left the room to tend to a tech issue but had the good sense to keep the tape rolling. “One of us played a note, and then we followed that sound, that line, and continued playing for seven minutes,” recalled Rubalcaba. “We didn’t know Jim was recording until we stopped and he told us.”
Over nine tracks presented, what Panken astutely dubs, “an equilateral triangle aesthetic,” a fusion of distinct personalities and sensibilities from three master musicians who know when to speak and when to listen. Skyline, he says, continuing to unspool this thread, is “an immersive album that is unique in Rubalcaba’s discography for its unendingly dialogical quality, in which no topic, idea or motif is off-limits to kinetic, soulful investigation.”
for Turning Point
DARK BLUE NOTES
"In 7 compositions, we witness the moments when classical jazz elements converge towards Afro-Cuban style without slipping off their axis." Read the full review here.
BEST OF JAZZ
"Once again, it results in an amazing listening experience, as delicate as it is full of life." Read the album announcement here.
"Gonzalo Rubalcaba, an esteemed pianist and composer who hails from Cuba, stresses that his home country's music is highly distinctive in and of itself." Read the feature story here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Expert playing that makes the wait for volume three, according to the press release a more Latin-tinged endeavor, all the sweeter." Read the review here.
EL UNIVERSAL (MEX)
Esta producción surge de un viejo anhelo del pianista cubano Rubalcaba de reunirse con los mentores de su juventud. Es su primer álbum de una trilogía digital. Para leer más presione aquí.
THE ARTS FUSE
Havana-born Gonzalo Rubalcaba, 58, has teamed up with esteemed jazz veterans Ron Carter, 84, and Jack DeJohnette, 79, for a release that exhibits a refined ease of expression. That said, Skyline doesn’t fully deliver on the high expectations promised by the personnel. But, leaving that consideration aside, the recording has more than its share of subtle pleasures. Read the review here.
The Cuban piano whiz teams up with American jazz greats Jack DeJohnette and Ron Carter on a new album. Skyline is three masters enjoying each other's company, with us listeners as lucky eavesdroppers. Read the review here.
"The talent's outstanding on this disc, but so is the collaboration." Read the full review here.
"This spellbinding music is drenched in dynamics, sensitivity, and introspection." Read the Fall preview here.
"Skyline contains the achievement of all these yesterdays, the song of experience and more as well as the promise of an entrancing tomorrow." Read the full review here.
"...a mature rendering of the art of piano trio." Read the review in the November issue.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba has enlisted the masterful talents of Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette for his latest album Skyline. Read this announcement here.
"The flow of musicianship is organic, with an almost palpable sense that they enjoyed the session as they explored the outlines of melody, harmony and rhythm." Read the full review here.
THE REHEARSAL STUDIO
"There is a sense of intimacy that pervades the entire album." Read the full review here.
MAKING A SCENE
"Throughout the listener gets a sense that the trio is exploring, probing, and wrestling down whatever idea they are presented with." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"The leader has enough skill and fluid versatility at the piano to make this session an exciting (even sometimes blistering) summit of equals." Read the review here.
"The unquestionable artistic value of the Skyline album is complemented by the excellent technical quality of the recording." Read the full review in Polish here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"You will want this piece of intricate, musical, crochet art in your collection." Read the full review here.
"The chemistry, the interaction, the individual flights of fancy that coalesce into a cohesive whole, is stunning." Read the review here.
"There might be no more fitting end than the blues for three musicians that have already given us so much, yet still continue to give." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"It's everything one would expect from the quality and experience these players share.." Read the review here.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"..Rendered in a sly bolero style, it finds Rubalcaba dancing over the keys with a variety of motifs and riffs but always maintaining contact with the melody even when playing intricate figures." Read the review in the March 2022 issue here.
"A record that possesses Afro-Cuban rhythms and a whole lot of imagination, there’s a wealth of talent present here, and it’s all utilized in splendid and memorable ways." Read the review here.
"..you can tell three are totally at home as a band in the studio." Read the review here.
"The empathy that swiftly developed in the studio among these three jazz masters comes through consistently on this exciting album." Read the complete review in the October 2022 issue of Jersey Jazz magazine.