Sounds of Space
To the list of young jazz musicians who have left Cuba of late, add the spectacularly talented 26-year-old pianist Alfredo Rodríguez. Sounds of Space is his debut release, and it’s the work of an advanced jazz improviser and composer. Classically trained in Havana conservatories, Rodríguez, played the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006, which is when Quincy Jones first heard him. Jones has since mentored Rodríguez and co-produced this record of 11 originals written and arranged by the younger musician.
Sounds of Space shows a soloist and songwriter less defined by the clave than by clean, inventive runs with a drop of dissonance, using Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell as models. Rodríguez’s rhythm section alternates between bassists Gaston Joya and Peter Slavov, and drummers Michael Olivera or Francisco Mela. Ernesto Vega plays soprano sax and clarinets. Often, Rodríguez’s writing leans to movement pieces and complex, dramatic solos, with limited chord comping. The few ballads here are wistful and as structurally multifaceted as his up-tempo songs.
Rodríguez begins the opening tune, “Qbafrica,” with a quick piano introduction to the theme, followed with his accompaniment on melodica. “Cu-bop” is a nimble Monk-via-Havana romp, with near-blues and funkier flourishes, and tempo changes. “Transculturation” and other cuts are similarly structured, with an intriguing melody briefly stated, followed by extended and inventive soloing for the majority of the piece before returning to the melody line.
On “Crossing the Border,” the unaccompanied piano phrasings demonstrate a Classical approach and operatic dynamics. The concerto-like “…Y Bailaría la Negra?” is dedicated to Cuban songwriting legend Ernesto Lecuona, but has more in common stylistically with Chick Corea (without the blues inflections) than a Cuban dance orchestra.
It’s rare to find composers who improvise with the skills clearly evident on Sounds of Space. And it’s just as rare to encounter a debut recording as stirring and astonishing as this one.