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Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Solo

Ask any club owner too cheap even to pay scale, and he’ll say his favorite configuration for a trio is piano, piano player and stool. Ask any pianist whose performing is worth a small fortune every time he plays–like Gonzalo Rubalcaba–and he’ll agree, but only because it translates into the ultimate freedom. So here is Rubalcaba, as naked as an artist can be, sans rhythm players, sharing 15 tracks that sound very much like a Keith Jarrett concert: not in execution, but in concept. No need for elaborate arrangements. Just set up the sound properly and let the good tapes roll.

What emerges here may disappoint Rubalcaba’s growing army of fans in one respect: There is only a suggestion of the pyrotechnics that marked earlier releases such as Paseo or Supernova (though the second of four “Improvs” comes close). Most of the tracks are slow, introspective explorations, such as the two lovely “Cancions,” the rhapsodic “Silencio,” the impressionistic “Nightfall” and “Suena de Munecas,” which features 90-plus seconds of upper-register doodling. There is no straightahead jazz. Rubalcaba’s meanderings are so highly personal, the only tracks that come close to being uptempo are “Prologo” and “Improv #4,” mainly because they alone are unabashedly Latin. “Faro” and “Quasar” provide more familiar territory with their aggressive, left-hand ostinatos.

Accept Solo for what it is–spontaneous inner dialogue from a brilliant, inquisitive mind–and your enjoyment of this album will be considerably enhanced. Two tracks in particular underscore Rubalcaba’s justification for solo format: “Here’s That Rainy Day” and “Besame Mucho,” analyzed, dissected and deconstructed so painstakingly, many listeners are apt to miss the occasional hints of melody. This isn’t “Gonzo” Rubalcaba; it’s more like Gonzalo Rubato–and on Solo elegance trumps excitement.

Originally Published