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Gonzalo Rubalcaba's trio finds that swinging sweet spot on 'Skyline'

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. When Cuban piano whiz Gonzalo Rubalcaba started working with American jazz greats like drummer Jack DeJohnette or bassist Ron Carter in the 1990s, it took him a little while to settle in. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says a new All-Star Trio album shows how good Rubalcaba and his old heroes sound these days.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACK DEJOHNETTE'S "AHMAD THE TERRIBLE")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Gonzalo Rubalcaba on drummer Jack DeJohnette's tune "Ahmad The terrible." That's from their album "Skyline," with bassist Ron Carter, a casual and quite nice cooperative date. Back when the Cuban pianist was new to the states, his technique could get the better of him. Nowadays, he eases up, trusting more in open space, small gestures and conversational interplay. He still has plenty of drive, but may lag behind the beat to let bass and drums pull him along. Together, the trio find that swinging sweet spot.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON CARTER, JACK DEJOHNETTE AND GONZALO RUBALCABA'S "GYPSY")

WHITEHEAD: That's from Ron Carter's composition the "Gypsy." Besides two of his own tunes, Gonzalo Rubalcaba brought along a couple of Cuban favorites like the 1920s hit "Lagrimas Negras" - "Black Tears" - played with an Afro-Cuban bolero beat. Jack DeJohnette disengages the snares on his snare drum for a brighter, more open timbre, hinting at the sound of Cuban timbales.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON CARTER, JACK DEJOHNETTE AND GONZALO RUBALCABA'S "LAGRIMAS NEGRAS")

WHITEHEAD: Bassist Ron Carter is widely revered, despite occasional grumbles from some quarters about wayward intonation and a rubbery, amplified sound. His champions hail his impeccably swinging groove amply displayed on "Skyline," a Carter album even skeptics might like. You can hear how his rubbery sound enables his elastic beat. This is from Gonzalo Rubalcaba's "Promenade."

(SOUNDBITE OF RON CARTER, JACK DEJOHNETTE AND GONZALO RUBALCABA'S "PROMENADE")

WHITEHEAD: This informal session with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette was Gonzalo Rubalcaba's idea. And it's on his label. But the pianist wanted a true co-op date, with everyone bringing tunes and no one in charge. Rubalcaba's even listed last on the cover alphabetically. What you get on "Skyline" is three grandmasters enjoying each other's company, with us listeners as lucky eavesdroppers.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON CARTER, JACK DEJOHNETTE AND GONZALO RUBALCABA'S "RONJACKRUBA")

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On The Film." And he reviewed "Skyline," the new album by Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.

On tomorrow's show, what do we know so far about the efforts by Donald Trump and the people in his so-called war room to overturn the results of the election? - and what they did to energize the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6. We'll talk with Robert Costa, co-author with Bob Woodward of the new bestseller "Peril." I hope you can join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON CARTER, JACK DEJOHNETTE AND GONZALO RUBALCABA'S "RONJACKRUBA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.

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