Growing up in Havana in the late Sixties and early Seventies, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba made little distinction between the percolating jazz of his countrymen and that of their creative counterparts working in the U.S. "[Cuban and American musicians] are the main sources of inspiration in my work," Rubalcaba explains by phone during a tour stop in Boston. "Harmonically speaking, there are so many common elements. Rhythmically speaking, both musics have the same roots in African music. Although they have different accents, the musical formations have been similar, and in both Cuban and American jazz you have the possibility of improvising."
Rubalcaba began honing his improvisatory skills under the tutelage of his father, Guilhermo Rubalcaba, who played piano in the acclaimed orchestra of Enrique Jorrin. By his late teens, the younger Rubalcaba was performing with the Orquesta Aragon and sitting in with some of Havana's finest musicians, including saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera and pianist Jesus "Chucho" Valdez. He also struck up a close friendship with legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, whom he met in 1985 at the Havana Jazz Plaza Festival. The pair recorded an album together (La Nueva Cubana) before Gillespie died in 1993.
Since his debut with the 1986 set Live in Havana, Rubalcaba has developed a piano style that incorporates everything from the sparse, melodic innovations of Thelonious Monk to the powerful sonic explorations of McCoy Tyner. Although his canon includes numerous reworkings of American jazz classics, he's not afraid to wander into other musical areas. For instance, his 1992 album Suite 4 y 20 included a stab at the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere," and his latest release A Imagine: Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the USA A opens with a dramatic, mournful interpretation of the John Lennon warhorse.
"I was drawn by its melody and its subject, the environment it describes," Rubalcaba says of "Imagine," which he debuted in 1992 at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival. "But I didn't want to just reproduce the song. Sometimes you can get into a melody or a song for whatever diverse reasons, but when you play it you're putting your own personal experience into it. Naturally the results will be different. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but I think it came out very fresh."
Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Cuarteto Cubano will give a concert on Wednesday, April 10, at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E. Flagler St.; 372-0925. Showtime is 8:00. Tickets range from $22 to $35.
Afro-Cuban jazz arranger Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill comes to town on Monday, April 22, to conduct the University of Miami Concert Jazz Band at the Gusman Concert Hall on the UM campus. The 8:00 concert will benefit a scholarship program for UM jazz students.
A forerunner in the development of Afro-Cuban jazz, O'Farrill has written for and collaborated with the masters of American and Latin jazz -- from Dizzy Gillespie and Machito to Benny Goodman and Count Basie. Pure Emotion, his first album in more than 30 years, was released last fall on the Milestone label.
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Tickets for the concert cost $25. Call 284-4940 for more information.
RSC Respectable Street -- the one right here in Miami, believe it or not -- ushers in a relative avalanche of national shows tonight with a poorly publicized concert featuring Dag, quite possibly the greatest white funk group of the past twenty years. The North Carolina quartet released its debut album Righteous last year on Columbia Records, a brilliant hodgepodge of moaning Sly Stone-steeped vocals and deep, dense grooves that has nothing whatsoever to do with Wild Cherry or the aptly named Average White Band.
Other national acts slated to appear at the Miami Beach club include seminal surf-punk combo Agent Orange (Sunday, April 7), West Coast punk trio Rhythm Collision (Tuesday, April 9), and the alt-pop quartet Possum Dixon (Friday, April 26).
"I plan on snapping up as many national acts as I can," says Butch Taylor, RSC Respectable Street's owner and operator. "We're the perfect size for a lot of acts, because the Cameo is too big and Rose's is too small." Too bad they didn't start all this a few weeks back, when their sister club in West Palm Beach hosted the fine "no depression" band Son Volt.
Call RSC Respectable Street at 672-1707 for showtimes and ticket prices.