NEW YORK, NY – The Sounds of Space CD released March 27, 2012, by Mack Avenue Records and co-produced by Quincy Jones, features the one-and-only Cuban jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriquez. Each of the11 tracks on this powerful compilation gives prominence to Rodriguez’s brilliant piano playing capabilities, and accentuates his superb Bebop improvisations with a Cuban and classical flair mix!
Rodriguez, 26, co-produced Sounds of Space with Quincy with the goal in mind to call attention to the various musical styles of Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and African music. Rodriguez sets the stage in this album for some funky salsa and other rhythmic cross-cultural fusion that is simply infectious.
It should be noted that a profound realignment of Cuban music and jazz began to take place during World War II but was little noticed until the late 1940s. The brew had been fermenting for years, partly in protest of the musicians of the time who were simply showboating and presenting unauthentic Cuban music performances.
The young Alfredo Rodriquez, who was born in Cuba and the son of a famous Cuban musician, Alfredo Rodriguez, Sr., is fully aware of the rich musical and cultural contribution of the Cuban people. Which is why Sounds of Space is such an important piece of art – because it expands the legacy of Cuban-jazz fusion better known as Cubop, and commonly referred to as Afro-Cuban jazz; its relatively little known godfather was none other than the Havana, Cuba born trumpet player and arranger, Mario Bauzá. Bauzá schooled Dizzy Gillespie in the art of composing and performing Cubop.
With this historical perspective in mind – we can now get down to business in dissecting Sounds of Space.
The musicians on this album must be commended for blasting their instruments at full cry, percussions swinging freely and with a powerhouse Alfredo Rodriguez unleashing glorious waves of sounds on piano!
Indigenous Cubop music rarely attains the level of chordal sophistication, textural complexity and technical brilliance that these artists dispatched throughout this album. Alfredo plays at this exalted level, yet can persuade an audience to dance jubilantly throughout the CD, says a great deal about the charismatic power of Afro-Cuban jazz he performs to audiences the world over.
Sounds of Space is music, in other words, that delights connoisseurs with its relentless syncopations and unusually inventive orchestrations, yet seduces casual listeners with its gently swaying backbeats and sexy, perpetually danceable tempos. Only the tone-deaf would be immune to its charms.
The Qbafrica track is more distinctive in its instrumental improvisation and more artistically cohesive because of its distinctive claves interspersed throughout the piece. Alfredo is acutely aware of the clave as being the keystone of Cubop. The piano and percussions mix with the rhythm section creates a fusion tension within each measure by its fluid and rapidly changing nature. You can just hear those Brazilian, African and Caribbean beats harmonizing magnificently together.
All of the pieces on this CD have different arrangements, which drew from a single musical vocabulary: Medium tempos, layered rhythms, radiant orchestral colors, sublime riffing among the sections and vast stretches of piano and instrumental improvisation.
Even in the dressed-up and sensual Sueno de Paseo, we have Alfredo delivering some of his most impressive piano playing techniques. The telegraphic soprano sax lines performed by Ernesto Vega and Rodriquez’s warmly melodic keystrokes and volatile starts and stops between the two, coupled with the light drum brushes of Michael Olivera, makes this piece a classic.
Though the musicians on Sounds of Space are formidable as an ensemble, they proved particularly effective as soloists as well: Gaston Joya devises an unusual form of bass playing execution in which boppish phrases traverse through a labyrinth of tonalities in the Cu-bop and …y bailaria la negra tracks; Ernesto Vega’s phenomenally detailed clarinet and bass clarinet obbligato in the Sounds of Space track is paramount; and Alfredo’s brilliant, Keith Jarrett-inspired keyboard solos in the Crossing the Border track, attest to the larger-than-life scale of Cuban instrumental virtuosity.
Alfredo Rodriguez pulled off a remarkable accomplishment in Sounds of Space by successfully linking Bebop to his rapid-fire Latin grooves, which ricochets past the riffs like a European express train.
Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Jazz and Pop Music Critic.