Gonzalo Rubalcaba & the New Cuban Quartet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Gonzalo Rubalcaba & the New Cuban Quartet 

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There's no doubting the technical virtuosity of Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, but his taste is often another matter. At his best, as on 2001's Supernova (Blue Note), he can combine the complex cross-cutting rhythms of his homeland with a nonpareil harmonic sophistication, and he's a skilled improviser. But on his most recent album, 2004's Paseo (Blue Note), he's still infected with the fusion bug; appreciating his music requires an ability to tolerate superfluous synth textures and zigzagging unison lines that announce, "Look how good we are!" On the stately opening danzon, "La guerrillero," the musicians move the tune along at a patient gait--though there's that damn synth distantly shadowing the action--allowing Rubalcaba to unspool some dazzling melodies amid densely clustered beats. The straight-up jazz ballad "Sea Change" is an anomaly, but even in the fussiest tunes Rubalcaba will move away from the fireworks and play some extended acoustic lines, single-note statements that roll forward without the slightest stumble. And when he pauses, he's creating meaningful space, not just gathering his thoughts (though the listener might need the breather). He's backed by some very skilled players, particularly electric bassist Jose Armando Gola, who carves out some surprising spaces on even the most hectic numbers. But when Gola plays alongside Rubalcaba on electric piano and Luis Felipe Lamoglia on watery soprano sax--he's better on alto and tenor--I get Weather Report flashbacks. The Chuchito Valdes Afro-Cuban Ensemble opens. Sat 10/15, 8 PM, Auditorium Theatre, Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress, 312-922-2110, $29-$49. All ages.

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