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Supernova (2001)

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba

For those who prefer their Latin jazz to lean a bit more heavily to the jazz side, Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba ranks among the best of the modern composer/arrangers, with a style that pays tribute to the African, Caribbean, and European influences of his native country while updating them for today's jazz audience. Though nowhere near as traditional as, say, Buena Vista Social Club, Supernova is far more true to his Cuban heritage than anything he's recorded before, with compositions that run the gamut from cool and smooth to blazing hot. The opening "Supernova 1," for instance, unveils a complex, syncopated theme, then allows each member of the trio to strut their stuff before breaking it all down with dazzling stop-start time signatures that shift constantly. "El Cadete Constitucional" -- a stately walk composed by Rubalcaba's grandfather a century ago, then rewritten as a silly children's song ("Be kind to your web-footed friends...") -- is reinvented with a funky strut in its step, while straightforward ballads like "Alma Mia" help to show the nimble pianist's emotive range. This is a wonderful album of varying moods and textures, establishing Rubalcaba as one of the finest jazz artists of his generation. ~ Bret Love