Introducing Rubén González

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: World Circuit
ALBUM TITLE: Rubén González
PERFORMER: Rubén González (p); Guajiro Mirabel (t); Orlando ‘Cachaito’ López (b); Richard Egües (flute); Amadito Valdés, Roberto Valdés, Carlos González, Alberto Valdés (perc)
CATALOGUE NO: CD 049

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Guitarist Ry Cooder described Cuban pianist Rubén González as ‘a cross between Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat’. You can see what he means. Like Monk, this septuagenarian seems to deliberate over his phrasing, but at the same time to swing the tunes effortlessly along. 

When he gets into his stride, the effect is to focus the ear on the gait of the piano lines, while the rhythm section slips smoothly by in the background.

The numbers are all Cuban classics – the dignified danzón, a simmering bolero and even a cheeky cha cha cha are included – but González’s interpretation is all jazz: spontaneous and sophisticated.

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A mainstay of the Havana scene since the 1940s, González had virtually stopped playing because of arthritis. Tempted out of retirement for this splendid recording, the old man cut it in two days with not a single overdub. You can almost smell old Havana, hear the ceiling propeller fans, the faded paint peeling from the shutters… GB