The Grand Concourse is a major statement from pianist Dayramir Gonzalez. It makes the most of the increasingly endangered 70-plus-minute album format, featuring an overture, a thoughtful musical dialogue between turn-of-the-20th-century Havana and 2010s New York (the album’s title is after the Bronx’s main thoroughfare), and an escalating rhythmic aggression. It’s quite an achievement.
Indeed, that “Sencillez,” a delicate and remarkably authentic circa-1900 danza with string quartet and vocal chorus, can sit in close quarters with the fiercely percussive (thanks to guests Pedrito Martinez and Yosvany Terry) and contemporary “Iyesa Con Miel” in a way that makes any sense at all is an achievement in itself. Rodriguez manages it simply by using the clave as a through-line, even as it shifts tempo; he also lets loose with a lyrical, though still heavily syncopated, piano solo on “Iyesa Con Miel” that serves as a tie-in to the gentle singsong lilt of “Sencillez.” (Another tour-de-force solo follows on “Blood Brothers,” sealing the package.)
The other tracks aren’t minor considerations, either—not even the opening “Smiling,” despite its running under two minutes. It manages to squeeze in every aesthetic consideration from home-island vamps to jazz drumming to electronic effects. (It’s followed by the much longer “Moving Forward,” a sort of secondary, funkier overture.) The hard-edged “Two Makes the Difference” bears down with the intensity-of-groove of a Horace Silver composition, seeming almost to dare the listener into a standoff … if only it could stop wiggling its shoulders. The Grand Concourse is a confident statement of Cuban-ness, within and without Cuba, that belongs in your ears.Originally Published