Tag Archives: Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Artist Profiles: Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Gonzalo Julio González Fonseca, known artistically as Gonzalo Rubalcaba, was born in Havana, Cuba, May 27, 1963, to a musical family that included his father, pianist Guillermo (who led Charanga Rubalcaba) and his grandfather, danzón composer Jacobo.

Gonzalo started piano lessons at the age of eight and earned a degree in music composition at the Institute of Fine Arts in Havana.

With Orquesta Aragón he toured France and Africa in 1980. He introduced his own Grupo Proyecto to the North Sea and Berlin Festivals in l985. In July 1990 he appeared as a surprise guest with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian at Montreux Festival, Switzerland, in a historic performance (available as the CD Discovery).

Egrem Studios of Havana was the first to record his music during the early and mid 1980s, Inicio, an album of piano solos, and Concierto Negro.

Beginning in 1986, Gonzalo began recording for Messidor of Frankfurt, Germany, and put out three albums for that label with his Cuban Quartet, Mi Gran Pasion, Live in Havana, and Giraldilla.

Charlie Haden met Rubalcaba in Cuba while both were performing as part of the Havana Jazz Festival in 1986. Haden later invited Rubalcaba to participate in what is now know as the Montreal Tapes with Haden on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

Blue Note CEO Bruce Lundvall signed him in 1990 and subsequently released The Blessing, Discovery: Live at Montreux, Images: Live from Mt. Fuji, Suite 4 y 20, Rapsodia, Diz, The Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio, and Imagine: Live in the USA, which featured his Cuban compatriots, drummer Julio Barreto, bassist Felipe Cabrera and trumpeter Reynaldo Melian.

For Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the ability to easily interweave musical idioms is a by-product of the long presence of American jazz on Cuban soil. “The connection between Cuban music and jazz has been the regular material for a while,” he says. “It’s something they’ve handled for a while including those Cuban musicians who perhaps don’t specialize in jazz. I think that Cuban musicians have a natural ability to be versatile and subscribe themselves to different styles and reach high levels of technicality and mastery.”

A resident of South Florida with his wife and three kids since 1996, Rubalcaba has had unfettered access to the cream of the crop of U.S. talent and the overall jazz scene since his triumphant 1993 Lincoln Center performance.

In 1998 he released two CDs on Blue Note: Flying Colors, a free-wheeling duet with saxophonist Joe Lovano, and Antiguo, a folkloric and futuristic fusion of Cuban and improvisational music.

Inner Voyage, the 9th release on the Blue Note label from Gonzalo Rubalcaba features drummer Ignacio Berroa, bassist Jeff Chambers, and special guest, the ubiquitous tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker; and completes an incredible artistic hat trick.

Inner Voyage represents the next step in his ongoing quest to become a more “integrated musician” with his all-encompassing synthesis of Latin, Afro-Cuban and African-American musical styles.

In the tradition of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, Gonzalo Rubalcaba composed most of the music on Inner Voyage to evoke the personalities of several important people in his life. “I’ve tried to give the impression that it’s a very intimate type of work,” Rubalcaba says of the CD, “precisely because it’s closely related to human beings that have had, and still do, special significance to me.

The roots of this group go back to the 1995 Heineken Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico, where Rubalcaba first connected with the great Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa – who played with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard to McCoy Tyner. Berroa replaced Rubalcaba’s original drummer who couldn’t make the gig due to visa problems. “Ignacio is a very strong musician,” Rubalcaba says, “because as everybody knows in the business, he’s the only drummer capable of switching back from swing to Afro-Cuban, from samba to bossa nova, or any other rhythm flawlessly.”

In 2002 Gonzalo won both a Latin Grammy for Jazz Album of the Year, Supernova, as well as a Grammy for co-production with Charlie Haden of Nocturne, a Verve release of Cuban and Mexican boleros and ballads.

Three years after Supernova, dazzled the jazz world with its blend of technical virtuosity and contemplative interpretations of traditional Cuban themes and imaginative originals, Rubalcaba released Paseo. “Yes, it’s been a very long time since Supernova,” he explained. “I used to do an album or two a year, but that pace doesn’t give you the opportunity to think; you have to produce. However, I want the opportunity to think as well. After I create an album, I need to play the repertoire with other musicians.”

The benefit of taking his time, Rubalcaba, states, is that the music is more focused, more relaxed, and more musical. “Sometimes, I hear recordings that sound rushed, like the musicians were under a lot of pressure. It sounds like that moment was never finished. Maybe two and a half years is too long, but two albums a year is too much.”

Paseo reprises the quartet format the pianist has used to great advantage on such recordings as Rapsodia and Antiguo, but one he hasn?t used much in recent years. Paseo presents what he calls his New Cuban Quartet and reinterprets some self-penned works that originally debuted on earlier recordings.

I had that need to begin a new period with the Cuban quartet. I felt nostalgic for what I did with my quartet in past years, but it’s not only about emotion, it’s also about professionalism. I had a feeling that some of the pieces I did in the past still sound very contemporary in connection with what we’re doing right now. I think it’s a good idea to visit again the concepts that I did with my earlier Cuban quartets. About half of the record is what I did earlier in my career, but the result, I believe, is totally new.

The fresh approach to such previously recorded works as Santo Canto, from Rapsodia (1992), and Intermitencia, a track featured on Antiguo (1998), reborn as Meanwhile, can be traced to the sum total of Rubalcaba’s experience, maturity and the involvement of new talent. “I’m older, and I have a different point of view ? I?m approaching the music with more experience. And I put the music in the hands of new musicians. We didn’t intend to do a copy of what I?d done in the past with the other Cuban quartet. We were totally free to do a new version of the music, with everyone adding what each believed would make the music richer.”

The album’s first and last tracks, El Guerrillero and Los Bueyes, are traditional Cuban songs that link the session’s free-leaning original repertoire to the elemental Cuban styles that have played such an important role in Rubalcaba’s maturation as a musician and as a man. “In one way or the other, during my life, I’ve tried to do music that’s connected to the soul, particularly to Afro-Cuban music. Not only as a musician but as a religious man, I have a deep connection with the meaning of that music.”

As with his previous Blue Note recordings such as Antiguo, Supernova, and Paseo, Solo explores this inner dialog through compositions consisting almost exclusively of themes from the Afro-Cuban culture. They include lullabies and African-rooted chants which hold a very distinguished place in the history of Cuban music. Solo won the 2006 Latin Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album.


Concierto Negro (1987)
Mi Gran Pasion (1987)
Live in Havana (Pimienta Records, 1989)
Giraldilla (Pimienta Records, 1990)
Discovery: Live at Montreux (Blue Note, 1990)
The Blessing (Blue Note, 1991)
Images: Live at Mt. Fuji (Blue Note, 1991)
Suite 4 y 20 (Blue Note, 1992)
Rapsodia (Blue Note, 1992)
Imagine (Blue Note, 1993)
Diz (Blue Note, 1993)
Concierto Negro (Egrem, 1995)
Concatenacion (Egrem, 1995)
Flying Colors (Blue Note, 1997)
Antiguo (Blue Note, 1998)
Inner Voyage (Blue Note, 1999)
Supernova (Blue Note, 2001)
Inicio (Egrem, 2001)
Nocturne (2001)
Straight Ahead (Yemaya, 2003)
Paseo (Blue Note, 2004)
Land of the Sun (2004)
Solo (Blue Note, 2006)
Avatar (Angel Records, 2008)
Fé (5Passion, 2010)
XXI Century (5Passion, 2011)
Volcan (5Passion 2013)
Live Faith (5Passion, 2014)
Suite Caminos (5Passion, 2015)
Tokyo Adagio (Impulse!, 2015)
Charlie (5Passion, 2015)


Anna Maria Jopek Meets Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Anna Maria Jopek and Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Minione


Anna Maria Jopek and Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Minione (Universal Music, 2017)

Anna Maria Jopek, one of Poland’s leading jazz vocalists, continues her world music explorations with a collaboration with acclaimed Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Minione features remarkable recreations of pre-World War II Polish tangos as well as classic boleros and originals by Rubalcaba.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba produced and arranged the album. The recording quality is superb, with audiophile sound quality.





Buy Minione


Latin Changeups

I’ve long contended that Latin music (something of a loaded term) was the first world music (ditto) to catch on in a big way. Even if many a mainstream fan’s interest began and ended with Latin big bands, Desi Arnaz, “Tequila,” Santana or the Buena Vista Social Club, there’s no denying Latin music’s permeation into our collective listening consciousness. Me, I love both the purist and fusionist sides of the story. The Buena Vista Social Club was, after all, originally intended to be a collaboration between Cuban and West African musicians. It didn’t work out that way, but the path had already been cleared by that point and many have since trod it.

The Gypsy Cuban Project – Havana Night Sessions

Thankfully, one recently planned Cuban/non-Cuban musical project that did come to fruition has a very fine CD as the result. Havana Night Sessions at Abdala Studios (Universal Music Romania, 2016) by a collective called The Gypsy Cuban Project sounds very much like what you’d expect from a band with that name: a passionate, freewheeling, seamless melding of Roma and Cuban music.

Romanian musician, activist and parliamentarian Damian Draghici brought 15 players and singers from Europe to Cuba. What they found there was a shared desire to record songs that bridged the two cultures and musicians with the chops to make it happen. The arrangements on the disc reflect the more Cuban angle, but Gypsy elements emerge in the atypical, serpentine way that distinctly Romany-toned strings, brass and accordion tartly take the lead during many of the breaks and solo passages as well as the subtle (but no less heartfelt) shifts in mood when the vocals trade off from one side to the other.

Bolero meets sevdah on the slower tunes and both are stronger for it, while the dance floor tracks are a transatlantic party of the first order. There’s not one bum tune in the bunch, but I particularly like the way the voice of Omara Portuondo is shadowed by what sounds like a pan flute on “Serenata En Batanga” and the slow-burn version of “Chan Chan” that wraps things up.

I was hoping my copy of the CD would be loaded with credits and liner notes. Because it was an advance version, however, no such info was to be found therein. Oh, the tribulations of a music journalist. So when you have the good sense to buy this crackling good disc, you’ll likely get more of the story in addition to the marvelous music.

Diego El Cigala – Indestructible

Madrid-born contemporary flamenco singer Diego El Cigala goes for more of an in-house approach, combining the emotive reach of his grandly grainy vocals with golden era salsa on Indestructible (Sony Music Latin, 2016). Cigala has stepped out of his flamenco roots to cross paths with Cuban and Argentinian music in the past, so he knows how to adapt his vocal nuances.

His focus on this disc is the classic salsa sound brought to the world by the Fania label in the ‘70s, and the fact that Cigala recorded it with salsa master musicians in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Colombia and Spain attests to just how worldly the reach of salsa was and is. The title track is the classic composed by conguero Ray Barretto and burns with all the trademarks of the genre: blazing horns, swirling piano, supernaturally tight percussion, snug bass and a lungful of vocal power. Cigala hits the heights on that one and every other, most of which are chestnuts from Fania that incorporate the salsa subtleties of the places they were recorded.

The smatter of originals like the Bebo Valdés tribute “Fiesta Para Bebo” are no less mighty. And when things slow down a little, as on “Conversación en Tiempo de Bolero,” Cigala wields his voice like the well-honed instrument it is, matching the interplay of Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s piano and a very sharp rhythm section. Rubalcaba is also present on the concluding Beny Moré composition “Como Fue,” a vocal and piano duet that rounds out one grand and glorious album. Salsa fans; don’t miss this one.

Headline photo: Diego El Cigala