Gonzalo Rubalcaba stands out as part of a new wave of Cuban musicians who don't hew to tradition to justify their popularity. Don't expect anything resembling the Buena Vista Social Club when this exceptional pianist plays Night Town; though Rubalcaba has a command of Cuban "son" and the more courtly, archaic "danzon," he reshapes them to his own modern and romantic ends.
This is made evident on Rubalcaba's seventh Blue Note album, Supernova, which manages to blaze trails while paying homage to older forms. One of the most interesting jazz albums of 2001, Supernova juxtaposed African, Cuban, and classical influences into novel, complicated forms. The album's best tunes, such as "Cadete" and "El Manicero," are vivid jazz evocations of Cuban street scenes that are among the many highlights of Rubalcaba's stellar career. Though he's only 37, Rubalcaba has been recording since the mid-'80s. A teenage prodigy, the Havana native now lives in Florida. He first became known in his native country and in the '90s raised his profile through work with bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and saxman Joe Lovano.
Having honed himself into a renowned performer, Rubalcaba is sure to be far more daring than the usual Night Town fare, conjuring the sensuality and mystery of Cuba -- and more.