Live review

Harold López-Nussa (2020 EFG LJF)

Harold López-Nussa — Te Lo Dije
(Free stream on demand. EFG London Jazz Festival 2020. First broadcast 17 November. Review by AJ Dehany)

Screengrab from EFG London Jazz Festival stream

Cuban pianist Harold López-Nussa’s album Te Lo Dije (2020) works the kind of grooves that pre-pandemic you might have called infectious. The album begins with street sounds and the piano riff striking up as if it were coming from an open window; the idea of this opening is to give literal effect to the album’s sense of flânerie, of walking through Havana and hearing music bursting out of every casa.

Harold López-Nussa’s quartet performance for the London Jazz festival was recorded in a windowless room but it doesn’t feel closed off, with such stylistic diversity and virtuosity on show. The sepia filter gives it a special quality, and many people viewing will have been starved for the intimate trappings of rehearsal and performance: patterned rugs and a sheet over the piano, speaker stacks and unlikely microphone placements, boards and baffles and stray instruments scattered around. It’s nicely presented with two camera operators tracking the group, and two sound engineers performing a sensitive mix; the detail of Ruby Adrian Lopez Nussa‘s tireless drum work might actually improve on the record: somehow the detailed Cuban style of intense work on the snare and hi-hat seems to cut through a bit better.

For ‘proper jazz heads’ the previous instrumental trio album Un Día Cualquiera (2018) might feel more instinctively ’jazz’ but a few listens of the new one, Te Lo Dije, displays if not a wider then maybe a deeper integration of styles, and an enhanced sense of fun. Van Van Meets New Orleans is dedicated to the legendary band Los Van Van credited with created the Cuban dance genres songo and timba (grown out of rumba and salsa respectively). The mixture of N’Orleans melodism with these hard dance forms here and on Lila’s Mambo and several tracks incorporated the distinctive vocal styles of Cuban music, unisons chants and lots of “Hey!” and “Ey!”

It’s disguised as serious fun, all about rhythm and song, but makes for some serious playing. López-Nussa is classically trained and has recorded Heitor Villa-Lobos with symphony orchestra, but his music is refreshingly devoid of pretentiousness, while being diverse; he’s unafraid to hammer out a rhythm with the left hand or a melody with the right, exercising tact and taste consistently, but knowing when to stretch out and raise hell.

The group is hot straight out of the blocks on sassy selections from the new album. Throughout the set the brothers Ruby Adrian Lopez Nussa on drums and Harold Lopez-Nussa on piano are locked in together as a unit with Julio Cesar Gonzales on bass; they’re fierce but responsive, with the same mixture of pathos and energy imbued in the trumpet playing of Mayquel Gonzales. Michel Legrand’s The Windmills of Your Mind is an immortal and endlessly evocative integration of melody and beautiful spiralling chords, and the band’s setting perfectly fuses the musical genesis of López-Nussa’s Cuban and French ancestry.

Un dia de noviembre, originally written by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer in 1972 for the film by Humberto Solás, is a more straightforward ballad, though enjoying the group’s characteristic chordal colorations and yearning in the theme. Such moments make you yearn to be there in the intimacy of the windowless room in Havana, or better yet walking the dirty pretty city streets among the reverie of music bursting from every window, the grooves infectious, but not like that.

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

This stream is available on the London Jazz Festival’s YouTube channel

Categories: Live review

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