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Harold Lopez Nussa Trio
El Pais Maravillas
When Duke Ellington spoke about "the West Indian influence" in African-American music way back in 1943 when he introduced his revolutionary suite Black, Brown and Beige at New York's Carnegie Hall, I wonder if the prospect of this Cuban trio was somewhere in his huge musical mind.
Its spark is the young pianist Harold Lopez Nussa, Havana-born into a family of musicians, and educated in both Cuba and France.
He was a student of classical music at the Havana Conservatiore, but from his early twenties he became a devotee of jazz and a perennial performer in Havana clubs and jazz venues.
He toured Europe in 2005, playing in London, Verona and Paris, and won the piano award at the Montreux Jazz Festival, then recorded his debut solo album Sobre el Atelier, which was followed by Herencia in 2009.
Now comes El Pais Maravillas, a trio album with his younger brother and drummer Ruy Adrian Lopez Nussa and Felipe Cabrera on bass.
The Puerto Rican tenor saxophonist David Sanchez joins them on four tracks, giving a wider Caribbean dimension to the soundscape.
Eight of the 12 tunes are Harold's creations, with Ruy Adrian and Cabrera contributing one each.
This trio, and the "country of wonders" of their record's title, is definitely all-Cuban.
The opener is Guajira and immediately the Latin influence permeates, with the handclapping, Cabrera's basswork and Harold's edgy and scintillating Cuban rhythms.
Caminos introduces Sanchez. Born in Guanaybo, Puerto Rico, in 1968, he began on the tenor saxophone at the age of 12 and moved to New York City in 1988, having decided to become a musician after a year studying psychology.
He studied at Rutgers University, joined Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra in 1990, and made a powerful series of albums on the Columbia label, like Obsession (1998) Melaza (2000) and Travesia (2002) in which his powerful Puerto Rican nationalism, Caribbean loyalty and love for peace were all committedly manifest.
In Caminos Sanchez blows the theme in unison with Harold, who plays a spiky chorus.
Sanchez returns for a jerking serpentine solo next to Ruy Adrian's thrashing percussion.
The title tune begins with meditative solo piano before the bass and drum entry as the particular marvels of the trio's interplay begin to unify, with Harold leaping into rhythmic motion next to Ruy Adrian's clicking snares and a hummed riff sounding out behind them.
Sanchez returns for La Fiesta Va with its jaunty theme and Ruy Adrian's crackling drums.
Sanchez and Harold spiritedly converse, with the former's horn making belligerent arguments and Harold's talking keys giving powerful and defining answers - call and response, the centuries old, Africa-founded sonic structure.
The serene quietude of Perla Marina is a stark contrast.
Harold's piano sways, with Cabrera's steadying undertow and Ruy Adrian's mollifying cymbals.
It could be a lullaby, conceived next to the gentle Caribbean surf.
Not so the stomping Pa' Gozar... y No Parar, which seems to be dancing down the Havana streets, full of joy and shouts of exuberance.
The strongly melodic A Camilin features Cabrera's twanging bass, full of vibrato and deep earth soundings, before Sanchez returns for the rhythmic outing of Bailando Suiza where his bold Cuban horn is totally attuned to his Cuban compadres, his cadences plunging into their unified one-Caribbean sonic unity.
E'cha has Brazilian echoes even though Harold wrote it, and its melodic centre flows southwards through the Caribbean basin.
Ruy Adrian's prodigious percussive energy is everywhere.
In Volver there is an unaccompanied piano passage which precedes Cabrera's solo, flowing with riverine beauty, and Sanchez plays an upper-pitched chorus with notes that shower down in cadences upon his confreres.
The final track, Amanecer, which has all dawn's sense of daily discovery, with Cabrera's bass heartbeat ever-present and Harold's melodism simple and profound, concluding a precious album with Cuba at the centre of jazz creation and beauty.
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