When: Fri., Nov. 30, 8 p.m. 2012
In one remarkable track on his latest album, XXI Century (5Passion), masterful Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba demonstrates what I love about him and what I can't stand. Supported brilliantly by bassist Matt Brewer, drummer Marcus Gilmore, and percussionist Pedrito Martinez, he tears into Enrique Ubieta's "Son XXI" with electric imagination, combining son montuno grooves and deft, adventurous improvisation as he builds a solo marked by rising-and-falling tension, precise dynamic control, and deeply ingrained rhythmic fluency. But during the tune's final moments, a wan-sounding synthesizer drifts in, replacing his piano and letting all the air out of the performance. Electronic keyboards turn up repeatedly on the double disc—on a couple of pieces Rubalcaba even indulges his sweet tooth for glib fusion—but otherwise he sounds as sharp, self-possessed, and inventive as he has at any time in his 25-year career. Highlights include his takes on Lennie Tristano's "Lennie's Pennies," Paul Bley's "Moore," and Lionel Loueke's airy "Alafia" (with a guest turn by the Beninese composer on guitar). For this show Rubalcaba will play solo, as he did on last year's beautifully contemplative Faith—which has no cloying synthesizers to muck it up. —Peter Margasak Ninety Miles headlines.