On the ambitious two-CD XXI Century, Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba continues to develop the ideas of modernity and fusion hinted at on previous recordings, with greater depth and breadth. Smartly accompanied by his trio of bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Marcus Gilmore, and augmented on certain tracks by guests, Rubalcaba moves with ease between styles and approaches, personal history and big concepts. On XXI Century, displays of technical brilliance take a backseat to detailed, well-constructed examinations of musical ideas.
He slows down and opens up with “Nueva Cubana,” his early, almost frantic exploration of Afro-Cuban jazz-rock fusion. On “Oshun,” named after the deity of love in the Yoruba religion, he smoothly blends religious chanting and drumming with electronics and postbop lines. And on “Son XXI,” he teasingly circles around a cha cha cha groove, coming closer and retreating while offering quick runs, jazz harmonies and electronics.
But Rubalcaba also approaches his interests from other angles. On Lionel Loueke’s “Alafia,” jazz and funk are infused with a mix of Cuban and African sensibilities. And he thoughtfully deconstructs and reconfigures Bill Evans (“Time Remembered”), Paul Bley (“Moore”) and an underestimated influence on Rubalcaba, Lennie Tristano (a superb version of “Lennie’s Pennies”). XXI Century suggests an artist who, while he can still dazzle if and when necessary, is also reaching for a wiser simplicity.