Sounds Of Space
Review by Willard Manus

The title suggests science fiction but the CD itself is anything but far out and unreal. The recent Mack Avenue Records release features the music of Alfredo Rodriguez, a 26-year-old, Cuban-born piano prodigy destined for jazz stardom.

Rodriguez, born in Habana and educated in that city's celebrated music conservatories, was discovered at the 2006 Montreux Jazz Festival by Quincy Jones, who has since become a mentor and collaborator (he co-produced SOUNDS OF SPACE with Rodriguez).

Rodriguez wrote all of the eleven tunes on SOUNDS OF SPACE, each one of which features him on piano (and melodica). As a composer Rodriguez is fresh-sounding and inventive, able to put a personal stamp on everything he writes. Although his compositions are rooted in an Afro-Cuban tradition, he also acknowledges such North American musicians as Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk as influences. On tunes like "Cubop" and "Transculturation" he pays tribute to those jazz giants and shows how their music can be blended with Latin rhythms, resulting in a brew that's truly bracing and original.

As a pianist, Rodriguez is equally inventive and adventurous; on "Qbafrica," for example, he shows off his Caribbean jazz chops, driving hard and hot with his band-mates, drummer Francisco Mela and bassist Peter Slavov. Then he plays solo on "April," exhibiting virtuosic delicacy and expressiveness. At other times on the 11-track disc, he plays with power and fire, only to suddenly switch gears and slow down, become poetic and evocative (especially on "Sueno de Paseo," his portrait of the streets and sounds of Havana).

Rodriguez is a triple-threat performer: he plays, writes and arranges at a high level. Without question, he is one of the most exciting young musicians on the jazz scene today.