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Ernán López-Nussa: From Havana to Rio

Cuba is famous for the rigorous, far-reaching conservatory training it provides for its musicians, and one need look no further than pianist Ernan Lopez-Nussa to hear the benefits of such an education. Like Chucho Valdes before him, Lopez-Nussa is an insatiable musical omnivore with an intellect to match his giddy enthusiasm.

On this terrific new album he makes stylistic stops in the U.S. and Europe on his trek from Havana to Rio de Janeiro, proving himself an adept at every language he encounters. But rather than attempting to speak each tongue distinctly, he blends them into one cogent whole, seeking commonalties. On the Mario Bauza warhorse “Mambo Inn” he applies shimmering harmonies gleaned from modern jazz to Cuba’s traditionally propulsive rhythms; he transforms Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” into a stately danzon; and on his own danzon/cha-cha ditty “Fin del Baile” he grafts on some breezy Brazilian-style vocals, but they fit like a missing puzzle piece.

The album delivers a mother lode of explosive rhythms, and it’s to the pianist’s credit that he keeps his extroversion in check; he never overwhelms the proceedings. Jorge Sagua’s electric-bass playing occasionally veers into ugly fusion territory, but this remains an auspicious U.S. debut from another vastly talented Cuban.

Originally Published