Pianist/Composer Harold Lopez-Nussa Captures the Soul of Modern Cuba on ‘Te Lo Dije’ (ALBUM REVIEW)
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Pianist/Composer Harold Lopez-Nussa Captures the Soul of Modern Cuba on ‘Te Lo Dije’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Havana-based pianist and composer Harold López-Nussa captures the joyous, dancing, vibrant music of today’s Cuba with an exhilarating marriage of jazz and Cuban pop music, defiantly standing up to the doubters who failed to share his radical vision. To understand the title, many didn’t think he could pull off such a marriage on this, his ninth album and third for Mack Avenue. Much like its near equivalent in English, “I told you so,” the Spanish phrase “Te lo dije” can be deployed as a boast or a put-down – often both at once. López-Nussa throws down that gauntlet on Te Lo Dije, featuring the pianist’s core quartet of drummer Ruy Adrián López-Nussa, bassist Julio César González and trumpeter Mayquel González, bolstered by a number of special guests including Afro-Cuban funk superstar Cimafunk; French accordionist Vincent Peirani; famed Cuban reggaeton vocalist Randy Malcom; and vocalist Kelvis Ochoa.

High profile guests who are contemporary charting stars in Cuba bolster Lopez-Nussa’s signature combustible blend of Afro-Cuban and modern jazz: the Songo of the iconic band Los Van, the Mozambique of Pello el Afrokan, the reggaeton that has swept Latin America and the world since the late 90s. Roughly translated as “Havana exposed,” opener “Habana Sin Sábanas” conveys the bustle of Havana’s city life. You can hear López-Nussa singing repeatedly “This is my Mozambique,” on the title track, confidently expressing that whatever the style, the voice is his own. The style was invented by the legendary percussionist Pello El Afrokan in the 1960s, but the song, like the album as a whole – lives vividly in the current moment. “The Windmills of Your Mind” acknowledges López-Nussa’s French ancestry with an homage to composer Michel Legrand, who died in 2019. Renowned French accordion virtuoso Vincent Peirani adds his own Gallic flavor to the mix.

López-Nussa’s penned “Lila’s Mambo” is dedicated to the pianist’s youngest daughter, inspired by her alternately sweet and devilish nature. “El Buey Cansao” is a song by Los Van, an enormously popular band in Cuba over the last 50 years. For his version, the pianist invited one of the biggest contemporary stars on the island, Cimafunk, to sing. The band and its Songo style also inspired López-Nussa’s own closing “Van meets New Orleans,” a self-explanatory piece that seeks to unite his hometown with its sister city in the States, whose ties with Cuba are integral to the development of jazz.

Both “Timbeando” and “Sobre el Atelier” are reimagined López-Nussa compositions, both previously recorded solo for his 2007 solo recital Sobre el Atelier. The title track from that album is a bolero dedicated to his grandfather, whose studio was beneath the family’s home. “Timbeando,” delivered on Fender Rhodes, was inspired by Chick Corea’s Elektrik Band and was the piece López-Nussa played to win the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition in 2005. One of modern Cuba’s leading composers, Leo Brouwer, wrote the gorgeous ballad “Un dia de Noviembre, showing that the pianist can play in a sensitive, restrained style (he is classically trained after all) as opposed to his infectious rhythmic approach on most of the material. Trumpeter Gonzalez plays beautifully too. Handclap rhythms begin “Jocosa Guajira,” with vocals by Kelvis Ochoa, a complex contemporary version of a guajira with intricate, interwoven rhythms. Even the hand clapping rhythm is tricky.

“JazzTón” is the album’s most daring hybrid, melding jazz with the controversial reggaeton genre, often dismissed by “serious” musicians in Cuba. Randy Malcom of the immensely popular Gente de Zona brings an authentic spirit, while the core quartet is bolstered by trombone, percussion and additional keyboards that add to the party atmosphere.

Most folks with pulse can’t sit still when listening to Cuban music, which at its core, is designed for dancing. There’s plenty of joyous, body shaking moments here as well but Lopez-Nussa also reminds us of his astute classical and symphonic background on three of the selections, creating nice changes of pace, almost as interludes to the rhythmic, spirited pieces. It all makes for a riveting listen. Oh, and yes…plenty danceable moments.

Read Article: Glide Magazine