Volcan is an all-star group that is the product of years of friendship, respect and a diverse, rich, musical heritage. The four friends are Jose Armando Gola, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Giovanni Hidalgo and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Their new recording, Volcan(Passion 5 Records, 2013), embodies that camaraderie.
Gola plays fretted and fretless electric bass. Hernandez is the drummer. Hidalgo plays congas and percussion. And Rubalcaba plays acoustic and electric pianos, Kurzeil, Korg and Virus synths. Special guest Maridalia Hernandez provides the vocal on “Corsario,” which also is presented as an instrumental piece. The recorded voice of Dizzy Gillespie is mixed with the group’s arrangement of Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts.”
After the free-spirited opening track, “Volcan,” the group lays down a mellow groove with “Volcan Durmiente.” Rubalcaba plays both pianos over subtle bass lines, congas and cymbal crashes. After an elegant acoustic piano lead, he switches to one of the synths briefly before coming back to the electric piano to close the song.
The group stretches out aplenty on “Sin Punto…” Each musician gets time in the spotlight, but the beauty of the piece is the engagement of those in the background during one’s lead or solo.
Volcan derives its name from the volcano, which incorporates the four elements of nature: earth, air, wind and fire. The members say the volcano looms large and, at times, ominously over otherwise unremarkable landscapes, reminding them of the goals they aspire to, the ensuing journey and the value of the climb to the summit.
Gola has played bass since the age of 13. A native of Havana, Cuba, he attended the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory. He has appeared on several Grammy-nominated albums and two winners, including Arturo Sandoval’s Rumba Palace. Hernandez also has Grammy experience, including Roy Hargrove’s Havana and Santana’s Supernatural. When he was 8, Hidalgo, from Puerto Rico, began playing a home-made conga that was crafted by his father out of a wooden barrel. Rubalcaba, also from Havana, draws inspiration from such jazz stalwarts as Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Gillespie, and Art Blakey.
The songs are mostly straight jazz or fusion, accented by the unmistakable seasoning that is Latin music. Rubalcaba composed three of the eight tracks.
This band consists of four Latin jazz all-stars: bassist Jose Armando Gola, drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba,Volcán was recorded in Miami and released on Rubalcaba’s 5Pasion label. The band explores three Rubalcaba originals and adds fresh takes on material by Chucho Valdés, Dizzy Gillespie, and Brazilian composers João Bosco and Chico Buarque. Favorite tracks: Rubalcaba’s “Volcan Durmiente” and the band’s instrumental version of Bosco’s “Corsario.” (There’s also a version with vocals from Maridalia Hernandez.) Notable for a very different reason: the band’s propulsive take on Barque’s catchy “Ano Novo.” Its melody sounds very similar to Daft Punk’s recent Grammy-winning hit “Get Lucky.” Barque wrote “Ano Novo” in 1967. Hmmm…. Check it out.
“Volcan” by By RON NETSKY
The latest supergroup to emerge from the Latin jazz scene has taken an appropriate name. “Volcan” is short for volcano, which as the album points out, embodies the essential elements: earth, air, wind, and fire. Executive Producer Gary Galimidi writes in his notes that volcanoes loom large over otherwise unremarkable landscapes. Together these ideas form a fitting analogy for the quartet; not only is Volcan an eruptive force of nature, these four players all rise high above the musical landscape.
Members of the quartet — Gonzalo Rubalcaba on keyboards; Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, drums; Jose Armando Gola, bass; and Giovanni “Mañenguito” Hidalgo, percussion — have played together before as side-men, but, until now, not as a distinct group. Each of them brings to the table a sensibility imbued with a world of Latin jazz tradition filtered through a forward-looking, contemporary vision.
The foremost example of that vision is the remarkable range of futuristic sounds Rubalcaba coaxes out of his many keyboards, including acoustic and electric piano and Kurzweil, Korg, and Virus synthesizers. While Rubalcaba is the driving melodic and harmonic force of the album, all of the others are key players. Depending on the tune’s feel, Gola is capable of a percussive acoustic bass or an electric sound on a par with that of Jaco Pastorius. Hernandez and Hidalgo, two premier polyrhythmic percussionists, never fail to propel the music forward.
The group’s sole writer is the prolific Rubalcaba, who contributes three excellent tunes to the album. Other notable cuts include covers of Chucho Valdes’ “Ponle La Clave” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts,” which is transformed into a wonderful percussion fest. The only tune featuring vocals is “Corsario,” a beautiful song by João Bosco on which guest vocalist Maridalia Hernandez sings evocatively, surrounded by gorgeous support. An instrumental version of “Corsario” is also included, and proves to be one of the album’s most beautiful tracks.
This has been a good year, maybe a banner year, for those working at the intersection of traditional Cuban music and state-of-the-art improvisation. The grand master of Afro-Cuban jazz piano, Chucho Valdés, released a breezily impressive album whose title, “Border-Free,” felt like a rejection of stylistic dogma; younger virtuosos like Roberto Fonseca, a pianist, and Pedrito Martínez, a conga and batá drummer, showed a similar resolve. And the American pianist Michele Rosewoman celebrated the 30th anniversary of her radical but grounded experiment New Yor-Uba.
Now comes a last-minute arrival to the speedway, in the form of “Volcán,” the debut recording by an all-star collective: the pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the drummer Horacio Hernandez, the bassist Armando Gola and the percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo. Recorded in Miami, it’s a relaxed but accomplished album, at ease within a crisp atmosphere of folkloric futurism. Every track, standard and original alike, has a streamlined surface that softens the whirring complexities beneath the hood.
Mr. Rubalcaba, 50, is the first among equals in this band: He contributed the only new compositions, including the sinuous title track, and he produced the album, releasing it on his own 5Passion label. As on “XXI Century,” the album he released last year, he finds a way to showcase his silvery subtleties of touch as well as his embrace of processed texture, playing both acoustic piano and a small arsenal of synthesizers (Kurzweil, Korg and Virus). Paired with Mr. Gola’s nimble electric bass playing, the results can scan as a form of new-world fusion.
Dizzy Gillespie is a common touchstone for these musicians, and their darting, heavily percussive version of his “Salt Peanuts” pays an almost breathlessly giddy homage. The same spirit of fond license can be found on tunes by Mr. Valdés (“Pon la Clave”) and Chico Buarque (“Ano Novo”), each one deftly rearranged to highlight the group’s polyrhythmic poise. “Corsário,” by João Bosco, appears in two versions, one of which features a smoky, stately vocal performance by Maridalia Hernández, who overdubbed her part in the Dominican Republic.
The years of history between these musicians — in Mr. Rubalcaba’s bands and elsewhere — comes across, notably on “Volcán Durmiente” and “Sin Punto …,” two of the originals. And the message is simultaneously one of rootedness and universality. NATE CHINEN
A version of this review appears in print on December 17, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: After 45 Years, as Incendiary as Ever.
By DAN BILAWSKY, Published: December 12, 2013
Whenever a musician strikes out on their own by forming their own label they’re addressing the issue of control and consolidation. Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba went one better when he created 5passion. He consolidated, took control, and diversified his offerings. First came Fe (5passion, 2011)—a sanctified solo piano date that All About Jazz’s Dan McClenaghan rightly called “an eighty-minute jazz prayer.” XXI Century (5passion, 2012)—a trio-plus-guests date—followed, providing an expansive look at the places where rock, funk, Cuban traditions, and African ideals merge. Now, after releasing and performing on trumpeter Alex Sipiagin’s winning From Reality And Back (5passion, 2013), Rubalcaba returns with this fiery, collectively-operated quartet.
Volcan is a formidable foursome built around singular musicians that are architects of a Latin jazz fusion sort. These musicians have delighted in defying expectations, erasing musical boundary lines and drawing new ones that suit them. Rubalcaba has worked the stylistic seams with guitarist Al Di Meola and bassist Charlie Haden; drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez has broadened the Latin drumming landscape through his work with Rubalcaba, pianist Michel Camilo, and his own Italuba project; percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo has put his hands to good use for everybody from trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie to Paul Simon; and bassist Jose Armando Gola has laid the groundwork for Latin luminaries like trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and on-the-rise artists like pianist Eldar Djangirov. Individually, each man is viewed as a mighty musical stallion. Together, they possess enough horsepower to tear a house from its foundation.
Hairpin turns, energetic eruptions, rumbling rhythms and a ceaseless flow of ideas mark Volcan’s more muscular material (“Pon La Clave”), but it’s not all about athleticism and power. Grace and poise win out on both versions of “Corsario”—one featuring guest vocalist Maridalia Hernandez and the other putting Rubalcaba in the role of melody maker—and a form of shake-your-hips friendliness and excitement comes to the fore on the album-ending “Ano Novo.”
If Sun Ra had Cuban origins instead of an American-cum-Saturnian background, he might have come up with something like Volcan’s take on “Salt Peanuts.” Some may be tempted to write this brief performance off as a tongue-in-cheek take on the song, but that would be a mistake; it’s too darn propulsive and dynamic to be cast aside as a throwaway. Every now and then, on the surface it appears the band may simply be spinning its wheels (“Sin Punto…”), but the surface isn’t everything. Very often the subterranean happenings are of greater interest than what’s moving along above.
Hidalgo’s mile-a-minute rumblings, Hernandez’s pan-Latin grooves, Gola’s rhythmic-cum-melodic bass work, and Rubalcaba’s alternately searching, storming and sagacious playing fuse together in this powerhouse unit. Rubalcaba may be using each outing on 5passion to present something different right now, but this lineup deserves a repeat visit on record somewhere down the line.
Track Listing: Volcan; Volcan Durmiente; Pon La Clave; Corsario; Sin Punto…; Salt Peanuts; Corsario; Ano Novo.
Personnel: Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez: drums; Jose Armando Gola: fretless electric bass, fretted electric bass; Gonzalo Rubalcaba: acoustic piano, electric piano, synthesizers; Giovanni “Manenguito” Hidalgo: congas, percussion; Maridalia Hernandez: vocals (7).
Record Label: 5Passion