Thursday, April 5, 2012

CD Review: “Sounds Of Space” by Alfredo Rodriguez


Sounds of Space


"He is very special and I do not say that easily because I have been surrounded by the best musicians in the world my entire life ... and he is the best!" - Quincy Jones

High praise indeed, from the legend himself and it intrigued me, to say the least, when I read that praise in the email from Mack Avenue Records offering the CD for review.

The first thing the strikes the ear right out of the gate is stunning and obvious classical training and presentation on the piano. Then the familiarity of the Afro-Cuban and Brazilian tune, which turns out is presented here for the first time. Rodriguez composed it. So, I had to ask myself why it was so familiar. So, I started the tune over and that was when I could hear the influences of Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, the Cuban masters Ernesto Lecuona and even Kenny Jarret. That was when I finally woke up to the pun in the title. Qbafrica, Cubafrica, Cuba Africa and of course, Quincy Jones has been known as ‘Q’ in the industry for so long that it’s hard to remember that Frank Sinatra was the guy who gave him the nick name.

There is a maturity in his playing, and his compositions are brilliant. His influences are all of the above mentioned luminaries, plus a bit of Horace Silver, and what had to be classical training – at times you think you must be listening to a piano duet, but it is ‘just’ (ha!) Rodriguez and all the talent packed into his very talented 27 year old hands and heart.

“Crossing The Border” by Alfredo Rodriguez from the album, “Sounds of Space”

Listen to the story of the song in the video, which may just be the best argument ever presented for “The Dream Act.”

Rodríguez began his formal music education at seven. He graduated to the Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán, and then to the Instituto Superior de Arte. But while his formal musical education was strictly classical, he also learned music "on the street," or more precisely, on stage. His father and name sake is a popular singer, television presenter and entertainer. he’d played in his dad’s band from the age of 14. So there he had a chance to perform every day, and write arrangements for all kinds of music: boleros, rock 'n roll, dance music-you name it. “It is where I learned the discipline of being a professional musician.” he says.

In 2006, Rodríguez was selected to play at the Montreux Jazz Festival. While there, he was invited to a gathering at the house of the festivals' founder and director, Claude Nobs, who asked him if he would play for Quincy Jones.

"And of course I said yes," recalls Rodríguez. "I remember I played an arrangement I had written of 'I Love You,' by Cole Porter. And when I finished, Quincy said he liked it a lot and that he wanted to work with me. That was amazing. That someone I admire so much would be interested in doing something with me was incredible.” But the reality of the political road blocks dampened his dreams.

Still, a month later, back in Cuba, he received an email from Jones' Vice President Adam Fell. "Then I knew this was serious. That's when I decided I was coming to the U.S."

In 2009, while in Mexico after playing some engagements with his father, who has lived there since 2008, Rodríguez made his move and flew to Laredo-where he was arrested and held by the border police.

"I had nothing: a suitcase with a sweater, a pair of jeans and my music," he says. "And when they interviewed me I told them the truth: I was coming to stay. I wasn't doing planning to do anything illicit. I was coming to write and play music, work with Quincy Jones and start my career. And I told them: 'If you turn me back, I'll be back tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, until I can make it through.' They talked among themselves, put me in cab and sent me on my way. That's how I started my life in the United States."

“Cu-bop” by Alfredo Rodriguez from the album “Sounds of Space”

“Cu-bop” was the tune that made me think of Bud Powell, it’s also one of the more ‘straight-ahead-jazz’ tunes on the album. It’s maybe how bebop would have sounded in Cuba while  "Y Bailaria La Negra? (a Ernesto Lecuona)," Rodríguez both pays tribute to-and teases-one of the grand masters of Cuban music as he playfully alludes to his piece "Y La Negra Bailaba?". Those are among just two of the highlights from this masterful debut from an artist we will be hearing from in the decades to come.

Rodriguez is already on the road, displaying his talent for jazz fans far and wide. Here’s the schedule so far:

*April 14 | The Broad Stage | Santa Monica, CA*

April 30 | Kuumbwa Jazz Center | Santa Cruz, CA

May 1 | Yoshi's San Francisco | San Francisco, CA

May 4 | Lincoln Theatre | Columbus, OH

May 5 | The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival | Kalamazoo, MI

May 6 | Ventura Music Festival | Ventura, CA

**June 16 | Playboy Jazz Festival | Los Angeles, CA**

*Solo piano performance*  

**Performance as a member of The Quincy Jones Global Gumbo All Stars**   

And be sure to pick up your copy of the CD, Sounds of Space at all the usual places. Just click on the link.



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