Enjoy Jazz Festival, Days 4-6: November 11-13, 2010
Taking the Afro-Cuban tradition into the 21st Century, fellow Cuban Harold López-Nussa and his trio delivered a set at BASF-Gesellschatshaus in Ludwigshafen, on November 13, that whipped the audience into its own kind of frenzyjust as enthusiastic as Valdés' the evening before, but for different reasons. This wasn't the dance music that populated much of Valdés exhilarating set; instead, while core rhythmic concepts, like the clavé, imbued López-Nussa's music, equally there was a cerebral quality to the writing, and hints of European classicism filtering into songs like "Herencia," the title track to the young pianist's most recent disc, released in late 2009 on World Village.
In fact, as much as the Afro-Cuban tradition is a part of who López-Nussa is, so, too, is the influence of contemporary pianists such as Brad Mehldau, in his impressionistic drive, and, in particular, jazz icon Chick Corea in López-Nussa's sometimes percussive attack. With double-bassist Felipe Cabrera and López-Nussa's brother, Ruy Adrian, on drums, Harold has a regular working trio that may be in his name insofar as he contributes most of the music, but is truly an equilateral triangle, where the contributions from each member collect for a greater whole that significantly exceeds the sum of its parts.
Ruy Adrian, in particular, was tremendously impressive, a hotbed of polyrhythmic complexity whose intense concentration was evident throughout the trio's 100-minute set, with not one, but two encoresfollowing the first, the audience applause continued so long that the trio went back out to the stage, ostensibly for a final bow but, after leaving the stage again, the yelling, screaming and clapping continued relentlessly, encouraging the trio to take to the stage for one last piece. Throughout the set, the drummer's support was fluid and inventive, while his solos were a combination of near-impossible ambidexterity, focused dynamics and constructive evolution. Both brothers are still in their twenties, and what's most remarkable, perhaps, is their ability to resist the temptation to throw everything out on the table with each and every opportunity; instead, while a youthful vigor certainly shines through in this largely original music, so, too, is a clear understanding that, at least some of the time, less is absolutely more.
Ruy Adrian López-Nussa
Cabrera, too, demonstrated admirable constraint, though the occasional burst of speed made clear that it was all about choice. An a capella solo feature, midway through the set, was as impressive for the bassist's ability to continue implying the iterative bass line that was at the core of the piece, even as he took off into other spaces, filled with a deep-rooted melodic sensibility, before returning to its thematic foundation.
Harold's solo feature, consisting of two tunes, combined a similarly lyrical bent with intensifying virtuosity. At one point, he used a foot pedal, beneath the piano, to strike a woodblock and create a clavé over which he could layer his playing; that clavé pedal was again used, when the trio returned, to provide a consistent pulse that gave Ruy Adrian even more polyrhythmic freedom, as he pushed and pulled the pulse with great alacrity, never losing site of the need to interact with his trio mates. "La Jungla" combined a 6/8 pulse with thematic hints of saxophonist Wayne Shorter's enduring "Footprints," but only as a passing mention, with Harold, Ruy Adrian and Cabrera driving its well-hidden blues-base to a drum solo that drove the crowd to yet another frenzy. Harold was clearly having a great night, as he swayed back-and-forth on his piano bench, his right leg swinging down beneath him and nearly straight underneath the piano as he leaned hard into some of his lines.
For a group still in its relative infancy, Harold López-Nussa Trio demonstrated all the building blocks necessary to achieve greatness: terrific communication between its members; virtuosity tempered by respect for the song; and a fresh concept, that marries the Afro-Cuban tradition with more global concerns. If its Enjoy Jazz performance in Ludwigshafen was an indication, great things are, indeed, ahead for this tremendous trio.
A week at Enjoy Jazz isn't like a week at most festivals. Instead of seeing a dozen or more shows, there are only six. But that small number allows for the kind of time most festivals can't provide, to reflect on the music heard. In a week that ranged from progressive rock and electro-centric free improv, to traditional Afro-Cuban music and more of the same, but with a decidedly forward-thinking bent, there was plenty to absorb. It's a festival that may cater more directly to a local audience who can easily travel to the many fine venues the festival uses during its seven-week run, but it's still the kind of festival that encourages a desire to return, each and every year, even if only foror, perhaps, because ofa small handful of stylistically broad performances from artists ranging from legendary to up-and-coming.
All Photos: John Kelman
Days 1-3 | Days 4-6