Rubalcaba, drummer, at least, find stride

Special to The Times

There are two good reasons to go to Catalina Bar & Grill this week. The first is the headliner, Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba; the second is his drummer, Ignacio Berroa.

In the opening set Tuesday night, the principal appeal of the Rubalcaba quartet was generated by the powerful interaction between Rubalcaba’s fleet piano lines and the irrepressible rhythms of Berroa’s drumming.

The group performed works from its new album, “Paseo,” the often thorny music executed with precision, even through the many instances of shifting rhythmic meters. Berroa was vital to those passages, keeping everything on a steady keel while investing the rhythms with high-potency propulsion.

Rubalcaba was at his best when he was interacting with Berroa, his astonishing technique placed fully at the service of his explosive musical invention. This despite an audio balance that overemphasized the drums and minimized his piano’s tonal qualities.


Unfortunately, other problems offset the evening’s high-quality performances by Rubalcaba and Berroa.

Start with saxophonist Luis Felipe Lamoglia, a stunningly proficient player, fast fingered, with a quick improvisational imagination. But his allegiance to the swirling masses of sound, multiphonics and high harmonics characteristic of freestyle jazz saxophone playing too often seemed at odds with the focused clarity of Rubalcaba’s piano.

Bassist Jose Armando Gola, a longtime Rubalcaba associate, was not nearly as effective on electric bass as he has been on the acoustic instrument. His musical presence was also affected by audio that failed to place his sound thoroughly within the musical mix. And the performance, overall, was not aided by the total emphasis on unfamiliar, melodically undistinguished material.

Rubalcaba is one of the preeminent jazz pianists of his generation, always worth hearing. But it’s hard to understand why so many of his better musical decisions seem to take place in other contexts -- on Charlie Haden’s “Nocturne” and “Land of the Sun” albums, for example -- rather than with his own ensembles.



Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Where: Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood

When: , 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday.


Price: $20-$35

Contact: (323) 466-2210