Better than... standing in line next door to get a $7 sausage.
Last night, amid the racks of clothes and enormous spread of Cuban and tubed-meat offerings at Apolis' Common Gallery, Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez provided a sampling of his Quincy Jones-produced debut album for a crowd equally interested in the sounds and the styles.
Rodriguez is poised to have a very good year in Los Angeles. Tomorrow night he'll be headlining at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica before performing alongside drummer Francisco Mela (who appears on Rodriguez's debut) and guitarist Lionel Loueke as part of the "Global Gumbo All Stars" at this year's Playboy Jazz Festival in mid-June.
At the jazz festival's yearly meet-and-greet last February, a startled Rodriguez was pulled up onstage to banter with the MC, Bill Cosby. "Oh, man, Cosby. That was something," says Rodriguez with a smile. He survived the comedic juggernaut ready for anything.
The crowd that gathered last night was probably the best-dressed crowd you will ever see at a jazz gig in Los Angeles. From the denim aprons sported by the bartenders to the scarves-as-accessories crew that dug into the Argentinean wines offered, everyone in the room had made more than one pass at the mirror before leaving the house. This was the kind of audience that consumes infinitely more cloves (whether it is via cocktails or coffee) than the Old Navy crowd.
Around 9 p.m., Rodriguez engaged in a brief question and answer session with host Shea Parton. The two covered everything from Quincy Jones to the tenacity of Mexican border control before making way for the spider-fingered Rodriguez to justify the renting of a gorgeous Steinway piano.
The Cuban phenom did not disappoint. After wrestling with the chatty audience in the lower register of the keyboard Rodriguez vaulted past his rubato start in pursuit of more active rumblings. Rodriguez made the audience earn his presence by building into a more rapid-fire flight. As it died down into a more impressionistic direction the audience hung on, gasping at his lithe jackhammering that brought pulsating sounds out of the piano.
Rodriguez gradually built into Chopinesque touches that echoed with his foot tapping on the cold cement floor. These brilliant flights, aided by Rodriguez's confident left hand bellow, closed with a bluesy touch. The tour-de-force performance lasted over 20 minutes.
Rodriguez closed with album track "Crossing the Border," delving into the frenetic encore with nearly every finger moving in a different direction. His clumpy montunos belied his origins before resolving to a more hastened lower register pulse. He commanded those 88 keys with unrelenting confidence and the audience responded enthusiastically when he closed a half hour after starting.
Rodriguez's Sound of Space is a terrific debut and Los Angeles is lucky to have an artist like him choose it as his home. "I moved to Los Angeles because of Quincy," says Rodriguez. "I don't like driving. So it's tough." Before we lose him to that snow-and-humidity drenched northeastern city it would be good to continue showing him as much love as he received last night.
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Personal Bias: It was fun to watch Rodriguez squirm alongside a rather hostile Bill Cosby.
The Crowd: Corduroy and denim with non-sensible boots for the ladies.
Random Notebook Dump: Since when has parking become so difficult in the outer reaches of downtown. Do I have to pay someone with a shopping cart to not break into my car?