By Jon Garelick.
Friday night marked the long-anticipated Boston debut of Cuban pianist Harold López-Nussa and his brother, drummer Ruy Adrián López-Nussa. I say “long-anticipated” not because these are hoary veterans. The brothers are still in their 20s. Rather, prominent Boston agent Ted Kurland first tried to bring them here two years ago, but visa problems scotched the deal.
Harold is one of those prodigies regularly popped out by the rigorous Cuban conservatories. He has toured with Buena Vista Social Club singer Omara Portuando and was featured as a player and composer on the 2011 US-Cuban fusion release Ninety Miles (with Christian Scott, Stefon Harris, and Davíd Sanchez).
At the Regattabar, it was easy to hear what all the excitement was about. Harold has the chops and sensibility to encompass a wide range of styles and technique to spare. One tune, written by his uncle, Hernan López-Nussa, began with the melody of a Chopin etude before segueing into a classic Havana ballroom danzón. It was all of a piece, fluid and lyrical. It was also one of the more relaxed tunes of the evening, along with an undulating take on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.” The rest of the 80-minute set was kinetic, explosive even.
Part of this was due to the bravura percussion by brother Ruy Adrián, who commanded a modified trap set that also included a conga. He also occasionally filled in a harmony or bass figure with a keyboard, hitting the drums with the stick in his left hand, playing chords or rhythm patterns with his right.
Even without Ruy Adrián’s help, though, there probably were few in the audience who missed a bass player. That’s because Harold’s left hand was a rhythm section of its own, pounding out ferocious ostinatos and occasionally playing parallel melodies. The absence of a bass player gave him room to roam, and, with all that drumming, the bottom was amply covered.
The overall emphasis of the night was chordal and rhythmic, with occasional flashes of extended, melodic right-hand lines. I would have liked to have heard more of those. And maybe some of the more subtle, quiet explorations that grew out of the Chopin. (A lilting country-style guajira was also effective.) But there’s no denying the excitement these two can create. At one point, Ruy Adrián took a cajon (the box-like percussion instrument that the player sits on), came from behind his kit, and proceeded to tear the place up. Rhythm isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. Look for Harold’s new CD in the fall.