The latest album from Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Avatar, is like some of the most outstanding albums in Blue Note’s illustrious catalogue. Not “sounds like,” in the manner of some young jazz musicians presenting fine yet ultimately “retro” sounds recalling the label’s archetypal hardbop sessions. Avatar, rather, is like discs such as Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure and the edgier offerings by Bobby Hutcherson, Sam Rivers, or Jackie McLean albums firmly based in the jazz tradition but which exemplified building upon and extending that tradition into the future. Under the auspices of American icons Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Haden, Rubalcaba came to the attention of the international jazz community while performing at the Montreal and Montreux festivals, eventually settling in the U.S. in 1996. Don’t stereotype him as an “Afro-Cuban jazz” player, though while he is mos def immersed in the folkloric and jazz traditions of his island-nation birthplace, he is not limited by them. Rubalcaba’s previous work also reflects the bebop god-of-the-88s Thelonious Monk, as well as classical music Avatar includes nods to Lennie Tristano (angular, thick chords), Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin, the last of whom the song “Infantil” is dedicated. Rubalcaba’s quintet featuring Cuban/Bay Area-expat multisax wiz Yosvany Terry comes through with rippling, fervent solos and rousing rhythms. The group proves, for those needing it, that creative jazz need not be a chore to listen to.
March 10-12, 8 & 10 p.m., 2008

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