Cuban-born pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa is back in his native land for his latest album, New Day. On most of the album’s ten tracks, all original compositions, he works with his brother Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa on drums and longtime colleague Gaston Joya on double bass. A couple of tracks add the trumpet of Mayquel Gonzalez. For the first time, it seems, Lopez-Nussa also plays the Fender Rhodes on a few compositions.
If the album marks a new day, it is an allusion to what the pianist considers an “artistic rejuvenation,” as the liner notes point out. At its best, his music takes Cuban rhythms and puts an edge on them. The tonal fantasy of “Fantasmas en Caravana” moves overtly in a modernist direction. Less edgy are the melodious “Otro Viaje” and the calmly tender “Enero” which closes the album.
The title track is a rocker, while “Cimarron” has the pianist’s right and left hand engaged in a kind of dialogue, before giving brother Ruy an opportunity to do a little solo work on the drums. “Eso Fue Hace 20,” which was written for the score of a made-in-Cuba cartoon and features Gonzalez on the trumpet, sounds to my ears like a slow play on “Saint James Infirmary.”
If New Day is meant to mark a changing direction, it is a direction worth traveling.
Pianist Bill O’Connell leads a seasoned sextet through a set of original compositions spiced with fresh re-workings of several standards in his latest release, Zocalo. This is not the kind of full bore Latin jazz album listeners might expect from a group called Latin Jazz All-Stars. The Latin rhythms are there, but as often as not they are somewhat subdued. As O’Connell is quoted in the liner notes, “The Latin may not always hit you over the head, but it is there.” This kind of subtlety gives many of the tunes a unique vibe.
Working with saxophonist Steve Slagle, who alternates between the alto and soprano, Conrad Herwig on trombone and a rhythm section made up of bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Adam Cruz and percussionist Richie Flores, O’Connell turns in a powerful arrangement of Victor Feldman’s “Joshua.” It is perhaps best known by way of Miles Davis and a sensitive reading of the ballad “For All We Know,” with Slagle handling the melody on the alto. Perhaps one of the arranger’s most interesting ideas was in the Latin flavors that dominate Oklahoma’s “Surrey with a Fringe on Top.” Gordon McRae might have trouble recognizing his venerable showpiece.
Of the original pieces, the title song, which we are told is named for the main plaza in Mexico City known as a gathering place for diverse groups to air their opinions, is in some sense an allusion to the diversity of the music on the album, be it “21st Century Blues” or “One Note Mambo.” Indeed, in some respects the most impressive original composition on the album is O’Connell’s homage to French classical composer Erik Satie, “Eric’s Song.”