Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet

I can't get words together. I was at the edge of my seat for much of almost two hours of music that was both unpredictable before it happened and the only way it could be afterwards. I think of the most memorable mathematical proofs, of Braque, Delauney, Pollock; Stravinsky. Deeply thought-out construction that yet feels spontaneous, alive, constantly evolving under its own dynamics. Clusters of notes bouncing among players to the point that one can't figure out what is coming from which instrument, and yet supreme clarity. Again with the mathematics simile, that feeling of vertigo when a inscrutable build-up of argument opens up into the revelation of a final step that makes everything make sense. Or as after ascending a steep snowy slope for hours, the other peaks start poking over the looming ridge, light spreads, and the horizon finally falls away to an infinite variety of landscape.

We've been lucky with several very good jazz outings over the last year, but this one was on a different (hyper)plane. Rubalcaba's virtuosity on the piano was never gratuitous, and rebounded off an incredibly skilled ensemble. Ernesto Simpson with a crisp, airy command of the drums and Yunior Terry with an insistent deep rumble on the bass spread out the piano's rhythmic sparks into space-filling creations (that Pollock idea). Alex Sipiagin on trumpet started maybe a bit tentative, but for the rest of the set and encores he grew and grew with urgent calls, oompah humor, almost painful buildups, longing. Yosvany Terry on alto and tenor sax was the hub of the ensemble, picking up ideas from the piano that spread through the ensemble, and reacting to them with discoveries and surprises now funny, now scary, spinning wheels of notes (that Delauney idea). When hints of a standard were brought in, it was never in the sometimes lazy way in which other bands take a break from hard work by indulging the audience's recognition. Instead, it became quickly transformed into something else, stretched, bent, rebuilt; in another mathematical (or Pollock) analogy, like a chaotic dynamics breaks up an initially compact region into a shifting flock of points.

One sad aspect of the concert is that the audience was middle-aged or older. I know that tickets are very expensive. But also, music like this is about individual engagement between the band and each serious listener, not about creating a framework for social interaction within the audience for an overwhelmingly social youth culture.

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