Con El Permiso De Bola, Francisco Cespedes with Gonzalo Rubalcaba
A couple strolls down the streets of Havana in the early morning hours. Sounds wafting from a nearby club cause them to pause and listen. Drawing closer, they peer into a open door to see four men gathered around a piano producing some of the loveliest sounds they've ever heard in their lives. Unaware that they have an audience, the quartet nestles deep into the music of a revered predecessor. Occasionally, a colleague joins them to contribute on trumpet or guitar or violin. But mostly it's the four -- a singer, a virtuoso pianist, a bassist, and a drummer -- speaking to and inspiring each other through the music.
Bola de Nieves (The Snowball, nee Ignacio Villa) has been described as Cuba's Fats Waller, Nat "King" Cole, and Frank Sinatra all rolled into one. Creating a CD of his music requires supreme talent and understanding of his style and contribution. I can't claim to be an expert on Nieves, but I know great music when I hear it, and I hear it on this CD.
Franciso Cespedes, a former physician, approaches every song as an act of making love, not reverence. As a result, he gets to the essence of the material without without coming across as a imitator. Cespedes' warm, breathy baritone seems perfect for songs that he caresses with the attention of a man reunited with his one true love. Rubalcaba eschews pyrotechnics and instead plays piano as if he were F. Scott Fitzgerald writing The Great Gatsby: Each note, each phrase receives precisely the right stress, tone, and rhythm. He plays precisely what is needed for every song; each performance is a perfectly polished gem beautiful for its restraint. Ignacio Berroa's melodic drumming combines with Carlos del Puerto's lush bass to form an ideal rhythm section. Highly recommended.