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Alfredo Rodriguez: The Invasion Parade

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Alfredo Rodríguez has lived something of a charmed life since defecting from Cuba five years ago. First, no less than Quincy Jones, who had caught Rodríguez’s Montreux set a few years earlier, decided to mentor the young pianist, co-producing his 2011 Mack Avenue debut, Sounds of Space. Glowing reviews followed, and Jones has now returned to repeat production duties. There’s no sophomore slump here: The Invasion Parade confirms that Rodríguez is an ecstatic player, an astute composer and a deft interpreter.

Rodríguez’s grasp of Cuba’s myriad musical forms is deep, his classical training evident, but while he pays homage to those roots he is unbound by them. On The Invasion Parade Rodríguez and his ensemble navigate complexities with seeming ease: Knotty time signatures and enrapturing melodic routes are firmly established, then disposed of nonchalantly. Rodríguez’s affection for his own meditative acoustic piano solo is matched by a zest for a sudden brace of saxophone, or a feverish conga run, or a squall of synth. In other words, don’t bother trying to guess where a tune is going, because you can’t.

On the opening title track, a repetitive piano phrase chases its own tail, bass and percussion in hot pursuit for what seems like an eternity but is only a couple of minutes; when Roman Filiu’s soprano saxophone breaks the trance it’s startling. “Snails in the Creek (Caracoles en el Riachuelo),” later on, also builds upon a mechanically looped riff, Esperanza Spalding’s oohs and ahs hovering and bringing a nearly whimsical touch. It’s her own bass, along with Pedrito Martinez’s keening Spanish-language chant, that temporarily crash the daydream, but by song’s end Rodríguez is back where he started.

Of the non-originals, the standard “Guantanamera” is the prize. Rodríguez’s improvisation dances around the song’s signature melody, losing it for lengthy stretches until you forget you’ve heard “Guantanamera” a thousand times before. It’s such an inventive retooling you may never want to hear it the old way again.

Originally Published