By Danny R. Johnson – Jazz and Pop Music Critic
WASHINGTON, DC – When the Cuban native Harold López-Nussa Trio had romped through an elaborate and uniquely scintillating arrangements of Afro-Cuban/Latin jazz music during the October 27, 2017 one night only show at the AMP, a music venue operated by the Strathmore Theater organization, located in North Bethesda, Maryland,12 miles from the nation’s capital, there was an elasticity of pure Latin jazz musical frenzy. The show was full of shifting Latin jazz harmonies and strident syncopation, and breathtaking performances by pianist, Harold López-Nussa.
Driven by López-Nussa’s effortless improvisational drives, he was matched perfectly with the assistance of his bassist Gaston Joya and his brother on the drums/percussions, Ruy Adrian López-Nussa. Harold drove the rhythm with repeated chords by rampaging over his keyboard, florid ornaments taking turns with a brittle clarity. Eventually, his right hand began rippling through an ostinato in the upper register while his left played a rolling salsa riff; the percussionist knocked out a kinetic mambo that was out of this stratosphere!
At various times during the show, the music reached an equipoise of rhythmic propulsion and harmonic inertia, at once hyperactive and fixed, but Harold figured out a way to take it further. He cued a piano solo and duet with bassist Joya, who wisely didn’t try to grab the foreground; instead, Harold played steady eighth notes within the rhythmic mesh, gleaming amid the splashy chords. That passage was the peak of a strong set which led to numerous of exciting solos by the three.
Harold López-Nussa, one of the most mercurial soloists in Latin jazz music, was true to form, shifting at whim from a high-powered salsa riff to crashing dissonances to chromatic cocktail-piano harmonies to drummer/percussionists Ruy Adrian López-Nussa modal chords to ringing octaves.
In one teasing duet, Harold and Ruy Adrian sat down together at the piano and played an animated and dazzling salsa duet with each other. Harold started phrases and then tapered off, skipping the final notes as if listeners could extrapolate. But while Ruy Adrian was taking his solos out on a limb, he stayed in touch with the underlying rhythm of Harold; every so often he would return to the basic vamp, as if to suggest that salsa’s clear-cut patterns hold innumerable possibilities within them – and it did!
Throughout the entire riveting performance, the two displayed an almost childlike delight of brothers competing against each other for attention. What they cleverly demonstrated was their delight in pushing the sonic limits of the piano and it was hard to resist; where the audience held their breaths until Harold had finished some high-velocity romp, they broke into cheers, gasps, and primal hollers in the middle of a particularly eruptive Ruy Adrian passage.
Harold López-Nussa was born into a musical family in Havana in 1983. His father, Ruy Francisco López-Nussa, and his uncle Ernán Lopez-Nussa are musicians. His mother, Mayra Torres, was a piano teacher.
He started on piano when he was eight years old, attending the Manuel Saumell Elementary School of Music and Amadeo Roldán Conservatory. After graduating from the Instituto Superior de Artes, he toured with Omara Portuondo. In 2003, he worked with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra. Two years later, he participated in a piano contest at the Montreaux Jazz Festival and won first place.
He released his first solo album, Canciones, in 2007 (Colibri Records) and went on to record: Sobre el Atelier (Harmonia Mundi -2007), Herencia with Felipe, Cabrera, Ruy Adrián López-Nussa (World Village-2009), El Pais de Las Maravillas (World Village-2011), New Day (Harmonia Mundi-2013), Havana – Paris – Dakar (World Village-2015), and El Viaje (Mack Avenue-2016).
Based on the October 27 performance at the AMP Music Venue/Strathmore, Harold López-Nussa undisputedly demonstrated he has a strong groundling in Latin jazz, through his experiences being raised in a musically talented family, created the framework for his musical philosophy; his exposure to the rich and diverse Cuban musical experience nudges him toward perspectives that are certainly off the beaten path of traditional Latin jazz pianists – and that is a good thing.
Wherever all this takes him in the decades to come, Harold López-Nussa has already established himself as one of the most lauded Latin jazz pianists/composers of his generation.
Check out the cool 2015 video of the Harold López-Nussa Trio by clicking on the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aa7PUxhYrLY&feature=youtu.be