Grouching Toward Bethlehem
Why don’t I give a fig about the Playboy Jazz Festival? Could it be that I don’t comprehend the connection between naked bunnies and sophisticated music? That I don’t think the Hollywood Bowl favors intimate artistic communication? That I don’t relish a cramped picnic with thousands of strangers? That nobody in adjacent seats cares who’s on the stage, and neither do I?
Well, that last statement isn’t completely true; the bookers always make sure there’s “something for everyone.” But if I picked the acts, the resulting lack of attendance would mean more room to picnic.
Saturday’s the clear choice if you’re gonna try to listen. The pairing of bass showoff Stanley Clarke and keyboard showoff George Duke clicks well with the current fusion revival, and may temporarily answer the question of whether there can be good fusion without cocaine. Benny Golson is one of the greatest saxists and composers still living; hope he doesn’t get swallowed up. The ever-restless saxman Branford Marsalis is listenable even when his reach exceeds his grasp. The open-minded vibist Stefon Harris sitting in with the highly proficient Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra looks promising except for the “Tribute to Milt Jackson” hook — tributes suck. Baaba Maal’s pleasant Senegalese lilt makes for snooze time on record, but it’s perfect wine-swilling festival background; likewise for Hiromi’s shallow piano flourishes.
Sunday presents some brain splitters. Though McCoy Tyner is the most overrated pianist who ever lived, matching him with The Lula Washington Dance Theater makes for a wild card. Elvis Costello calling Allen Toussaint for a New Orleans date sounds like a romance that will leave all parties weeping. Ozomatli? Eddie Palmieri? Should be some legitimate world/Latin heat there. The young pianist Eldar, famous for being fast, certainly is .?.?. fast.
Y’all go on without me; I’d just kill your buzz.
Or we can ditch the sun for Gonzalo Rubalcaba. The Cuban pianist delivered his best album this year; it’s solo, and he’s playing solo here.
Rubalcaba is always beautiful, but he’s not always deep. For Solo, though, he played his emotions, choosing from his previous albums several significant songs by himself and other Cuban composers, plus some new material. His liner notes use words such as solitude and secrets — this thing’s personal. And the music shines.
The Santeria prayer “Rezo” sets the meditative mood with a flutter of angel wings. On “Quasar,” Rubalcaba keeps a slow, eternal pace with his left hand while he probes the corners of his mind with knotty dissonances, percussive pedal effects and nerve-driven solo flights. Rafael Hernandez’s “Silencio” is an aching Iberian lament that recalls the Charlie Haden statement of the same name. The album progresses with interrupted thoughts, flashes of memory, impulsive flights. There’s a wondrous rediscovery of the Burke-Van Heusen standard “Here’s That Rainy Day,” and the saddest “Besame Mucho” you’ve ever heard.
Listening is a privilege.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba performs at Catalina’s, nightly through Sunday, June 18.
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