A Darkly Smashing Return to Form and a Jazz Standard Stand by Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez

by delarue

Cuban-born pianist and Quincy Jones protege Alfredo Rodriguez made waves with his 2012 debut album Sounds of Space, His latest and third release, Tocororo – streaming at Spotify – is a welcome return to that record’s juxtaposition of terse Afro-Cuban and broodingly lustrous third-stream sounds. Rodriguez is leading a trio with bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Henry Cole plus chanteuse Ganavya Doraiswamy through a three-night stand at the Jazz Standard starting on March 3, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $30, which may seem steep, but remember, the Jazz Standard has no minimums (although they do have good food if you feel like splurging).

The album takes its name from the Cuban national bird, which does not survive in captivity: subtext, anyone? Rodriguez opens it with Chan Chan, a gorgeously creepy George Crumb-like inside-the-piano theme lowlit by some absolutely bloodcurdling bass clarinet. Yemaya veers elegantly between jaggedly insistent Afro-Caribbean intenstiy and enveloping lushness,building with soaring vocalese from Doraiswamy and the duo Ibeyi. Rodriguez’s hard-hitting, music-box-like precision livens bassist Richard Bona’s generically vampy Raices; the bassist also contributes an easygoing cha-cha that they reprise at the end of the album.

Ginaterias spirals with a wickedly catchy intensity that’s part flamenco, part suspenseful phantasmagoria and part Bach. Speaking of which, there’s a wryly syncopated version of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring a bit later on.

The album’s title track mashes up jackhammer latin swing, brooding neoromanticism and anxious Indian classical motives, sung with an aptly dynamic, meticulous intenstiy by Doraiswamy. There are two numbers by haunting Lebanese-French trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf here: the first, Venga La Esperanza is a wistful title theme of sorts. The second, Kaleidoscope, is the album’s best track, a propulsively dynamic blend of Middle Eastern classical, Indian carnatic, neoromantic and balmy cinematic styles featuring some strikingly ominous microtonal trumpet from its composer.

Sabanas Blanca is a surreal, unexpected departure into an avant garde take on trip-hop. Adios Nonino, the classic Piazzolla elegy, rocks a lot harder than other artists typically do it, at least to begin, which underscores¬†the plaintiveness that follows. And Meteorite turns on a dime from breathless cinematics to lively pointillisms, then a crushing, angst-fueled dirge. The not-so-subtle message here, other than “Free my people!” seems to be, what can’t this guy play? Answer? Probably nothing. It’ll be fun to see where he lands when he eventually sorts all this out.