Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Borrowed Roses

Playing solo, the Cuban pianist slows down, giving the rubato treatment to GAS standards and tunes by Sting and Paul McCartney

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Borrowed Roses is his Rubalcaba’s third solo piano album, and his first devoted to the Great American Songbook. “For this album,” he writes, “I read the lyrics of each piece that contains lyrics to internalize the message. It really affects … the way you treat it in terms of arrangement, or how you improvise the story you want to tell, or what you include harmonically.” The album was recorded at home, on the pianist’s newly restored Bösendorfer.

The concept is unusual. The first three tracks are in a slow ad-lib tempo, and the first groove is on a medium/uptempo Take Five, with a dark and rather minimalist improvisation. Among these ad-lib tempo performances is Summertime, one of three Gershwin songs. As Liam Noble comments in a review, the song has almost passed through the hackneyed phase to being an interesting choice again – Rubalcaba’s subtle treatment seemingly ignores the influential Bill Evans interpretation.

In fact, slow ad-lib tempo performances are unusually predominant – others are Lush Life, and In A Sentimental Mood. Sting’s Shape Of My Heart, stripped of pop origins, becomes meditative. Rubalcaba’s interpretation of McCartney’s Here, There and Everywhere shows its origins in the American Songbook repertoire.

I’ve felt in the past that Rubalcaba has indulged his powerhouse technique in flashy performances, but it’s hard to credit that criticism here – I’m reminded of a similar change in another remarkable pianist, Joey Calderazzo. This is not my favourite set of Rubalcaba performances – I recall first of all his memorable duo with Chucho Valdés at Bergamo in 2018, one of the most enthralling concerts of the many I have experienced at this wonderful jazz festival. But it’s a fine album nonetheless.


Discography
Chelsea Bridge; Summertime; Someone To Watch Over Me; Take Five; Here There And Everywhere; Windows; Lush Life; Night And Day; In A Sentimental Mood; Very Early; Do It Again; Shape Of My Heart (61.05)
Rubalcaba (p). no recording details. 
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