Gonzalo Rubalcaba took the piano bench in silence, said not a word between songs, and made no comment upon returning for his encore and bowing out. Dark-suited and serious, he let us know that his June 17 performance at Catalina’s was more than a solo show, it was a glimpse into a private mind, a direct emotional experience that words would only have confused.

Possibly this was more art than a Saturday-night dinner crowd expects, but Rubalcaba (discovered by Charlie Haden in Cuba two decades ago) got an appreciative, if somewhat intimidated, reception as he maintained the mood and largely the content of his current Solo. Of course, the renditions couldn’t have been less identical; as my wife said, he sounded as if he were discovering each note combination, pressure application and Scriabin-like pedal inflection for the first time. The man’s technical command is total, and combined with a fearless resolve to enter whatever dark canyons into which his memory and passion might lead him, it made a tremendous impact. You just hardly ever see this.

Basing his improvisations on his own songs and personally resonant selections from the Cuban repertory, Rubalcaba discovered opportunities to make gentle peace from dissonances, to contrast pretty right-hand balladry with troubled left-hand crosscurrents, to alternate pomp with pensive bewilderment. He crouched over the keys as if to hear them speak, and answered their prayers with the loving touch of a sculptor in soft clay. After he had concluded the main set by subjecting “Bésame Mucho” to the kind of anguished re-harmonization and reconsideration one might apply to a relationship not long dead, Rubalcaba stepped off the stage into the shadows and dabbed a handkerchief to his eyes. He was not alone.


It’s a telling trend: latter-day improvisers revisiting significant albums from the past in concert, as they’ve done locally with classic sets first recorded by John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Oliver Nelson. The latest attempt at grail recovery is by Harris Eisenstadt; his object is The All Seeing Eye, a 1965 Wayne Shorter album whose chord clouds, hard swing, threatening moods and improvisational wildfire fit right into the gestalt of expanding horizons that was current then and is returning now.

Eisenstadt is one of the few drummers who can make you flash on the earthy feel of Ornette Coleman percussionist Ed Blackwell, as well as a modern composer and bandleader with a growing list of credits from duo to large ensemble. So he’s clearly the man for the job. And his Intrusion octet, laying out a palette that can realize any color scheme, corrals some of our best players: Chris Dingman (vibes), Andrew Pask and Brian Walsh (clarinets), Daniel Rosenboom and Aaron Smith (trumpets), Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon) and Scott Walton (contrabass). Marc Lowenstein conducts. The Shorter stuff is at 8 p.m.; two new Eisenstadt pieces debut at 9:30.?

Harris Eisenstadt’s Intrusion plays Club Tropical on Thursday, July 6.

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