Cuba has a long historical tradition of gifted pianists emerging, with Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, just two who have gone on to achieve international prominence. In the case of Alfredo Rodriguez, it was a performance at the 2006 Montreux Jazz Festival heard by none other than legendary producer Quincy Jones who liked the youngster’s playing sufficiently to suggest they collaborate together. Jones is indeed the executive producer on this debut for Mack Avenue.
Recorded in both Madrid and Paris with numerous guest musicians, the album hints at great promise even if it is uneven and is lacking in cohesion precisely because there are so many disparate parts to it. On the positive side, the pared down old-school charm of ‘Ay mama Inés’ in collaboration with guitarist Richard Bona works a treat and is candidate for the strongest and indeed most melodic piece on the album. Likewise, the pairing of Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf with the pianist on two pieces adds a certain amount of melancholy to proceedings and is especially compelling on the Silvio Rodriguez composition, ‘Venga la esperanza’ and on ‘Kaleidoscope’. Where structurally the album falls down a little is with the plethora of other collaborations and part of Rodriguez’s distinctive identity is lost in the process. A brief rendition of ‘Chan Chan’, famously reprised by Compay Segundo, is approached from a fresh perspective with plucked guitar and minimal percussion. Elsewhere African-inspired pieces are fused with wordless jazz vocals. Rodriguez was in fact inspired to play jazz piano when, aged fifteen, his uncle in Cuba gave him a copy of the Keith Jarrett, ‘Live in Koln’ concert and thereafter Rodriguez concentrated all his efforts on music based around improvisation.
For future recordings, Alfredo Rodriguez needs to focus on a smaller, regular number of musicians with whom to perform and narrow the repertoire down a tad. The pan-Latin American approach to his composition selection, however, is to be encouraged and will reap dividends in the future if he continues to make the same progress. Definitely a pianist to watch out for in the forthcoming years.