The Basement, March 12
If improvisation is not a dialogue it is merely craft with no art. Even in a solo performance multiple layers of dialogue are in play, most obviously between the performer and the audience, the instrument and the song or improvising vehicle. But when the music is of an especially high calibre, as it was in this concert by the Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, the improvising also becomes a dialogue between right hand and left, soft and loud, density and space, propulsion and flotation, and between idioms. Rodriguez charmingly referred to the process as “talking to myself”.
He joins the stream of exceptional pianists that Cuba exports in numbers entirely disproportionate to the island nation’s population, and he comes armed with a level of facility that suggests improvisation’s gain was classical music’s loss. Indeed one can imagine his clean articulation and vivacity of touch serving the works of Mozart brilliantly.
Unleashing such formidable technique as an improviser can be problematic as well as a blessing. The blessing side was self-evident when
Rodriguez created a kind of fantasia on Guantanamera, the familiar melody spearing out of meteor showers of notes and great black holes of rumbling bass. The problem side is that filling the music’s surface with dazzling facility can be an impediment to or a substitute for arriving at a greater profundity. I’m not saying that Rodriguez was ever flashy for the sake of it, but further maturity may well see him take greater delight in simplicity.
Amid some engaging original compositions we heard evidence of this already being in place on Besame Mucho, where he played with candle-lit sensitivity and phenomenal control of the piano’s timbre, and on Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, where he revelled in the guileless joy of the melodic line.
Accordionist Marcello Maio had already given a lesson in solo improvisation as a dialogue in opening the concert. The highlight was a version of Libertango that, despite being taken at a very crisp tempo, still created an intoxicating mood laced with musical shadows.