"El Viaje (The Journey)," the title track of Cuban pianist and composer Harold López-Nussa's debut release on Mack Avenue Records,
seems to sway gently like a boat in the water--as if readying for a
voyage or returning to port after arrival--trumpet and voices whispering
memories. This scene aptly describes López-Nussa's experiences of
traveling throughout the world, yet always finding his way back to his
hometown of Havana, Cuba. This journey of body and spirit has led
simultaneously to a musical exploration where he visits various genres
and ideas while staying true to his foundational roots.
release of López-Nussa's music stateside is a significant postscript to
President Obama's recent trip to Havana. The conservatory-trained
pianist is the first Cuba-based
musician (he has dual citizenship in both Cuba and France) to release an
album internationally since the lifting of many of the restrictions
associated with the longstanding trade embargo. States Mack Avenue
Records President Denny Stilwell, "Harold follows in the modern day
tradition of exemplary Cuban pianists who have recorded and toured
internationally. We feel he is an emerging artist with immense creative
potential to breakthrough."
El Viaje features The Harold López-Nussa Trio with younger brother Ruy Adrián López-Nussa on drums and percussion and from Senegal, Alune Wade on bass and vocals. This trio is augmented on certain tracks with guests including his father Ruy Francisco López-Nussa on drums, Mayquel González on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Dreiser Durruthy and Adel González on percussion.
López-Nussa, who collaborated with Wade on the 2015 album Havana-Paris-Dakar,
noted: "Having a non-Cuban musician on this recording speaks to our
contact with other cultures. Especially with African culture, which is
so far from ours geographically and yet so close. Every time we play, I
believe we enter into a journey we are creating," he says, speaking from
his home in Havana. "Ever since I was a kid, since I began to study
piano, music, I have tried; I have searched for that journey of the
mind, always traveling with music. I remember that I started playing 'El
Viaje' while on tour as a way of feeling closer to home, and when I'm
here, it's also a way for my mind to travel."
Photo Credit: Eduardo Rawdriguez
was born into a musical family in Havana on July 13, 1983. Not only are
his father and uncle--Ernán, a pianist--working musicians, but his late
mother, Mayra Torres, was a highly regarded piano teacher. At the age
of eight, López-Nussa began studying at the Manuel Saumell Elementary
School of Music, then the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and finally
graduating with a degree in classical piano from the Instituto Superior
de Artes (ISA). "I studied classical music and that's all I did until I
was 18," he says. Then came jazz.
was scary. Improvisation was scary. That idea of not knowing what you
are going to play..." he says, his voice trailing off. "At school I
learned the works of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven and then it was all very
clear. That permanent risk in which jazz musicians find themselves in
all the time was terrifying-of course, now I find myself in that risk
all the time."
compositions on the album speak of places on the map and the past --
"Me voy pa' Cuba (I´m Goin´ to Cuba)," "Inspiración en Connecticut
(Inspiration in Connecticut)," "Oriente," "Africa," and Chucho Valdés´
classic "Bacalao Con Pan (Cod on Bread)." Throughout, the music is
muscular, elegant, familiar and fresh, rooted in Cuban tradition yet
permeated by different accents.
"Feria (Fair)" the sound of what could be a Cuban neighborhood dance
party takes on an African groove before becoming a New York story with
Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" as its soundtrack. "Lobo's cha," a bolero
with a hint of Parisian melancholy, almost imperceptibly becomes a
modern cha-cha-cha. There are no instrumental gymnastics, no look-at-me
solos here, just clarity and purpose-and understated brilliance. Even as
López-Nussa brings his experiences elsewhere back home, Havana never
becomes just a backdrop. This is a recording made in Havana. For him,
the city, its sounds and its people are a point of departure--and
always liked the idea of projecting myself to the world from here," he
says. "The personal ties are very strong for me. A lot ties me to this
country," he said. "I want this to be my place to create--even if I can
have those great experiences traveling. The personal is essential for my
creative process. Being able to go out into the neighborhood where I
grew up, a place that I know so well, walk on the Malecón, sit by the
sea. This is where I want to be."
About Harold López-Nussa:
has moved with ease between the classical, popular and jazz music
worlds. A quick look at his experiences reveal a recording of Heitor
Villa-Lobos´ "Fourth Piano Concerto" with Cuba's National Symphony
Orchestra (2003) but also winning the First Prize and Audience Prize of
the Jazz Solo Piano Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival,
Switzerland, in 2005. He was part of projects as diverse as Ninety Miles (a recording with David Sánchez, Christian Scott and Stefon Harris) and Esencial (an album of compositions by revered Cuban classical guitarist, composer and conductor Leo Brouwer), both in 2011.
for his popular music and on-the-job training, he was part of projects
such as the Cuba volume of Rhythms del Mundo, which paired him with
veterans from Buena Vista Social Club and he spent three years in the
touring band of singer Omara Portuondo, an opportunity he calls "a
blessing." He has distilled all those experiences not only into a rich,
personal style, as a player and composer, but it infused López-Nussa
with an engaging attitude about making and sharing music.