Cuban Jazz Smokin’ in St. Louis
Before last night, I don’t think I could name one contemporary Cuban jazz band. I love the music, the soul, the rhythm, the people, but for whatever reason, I don’t have one recording in my collection and as a result, I am always at a loss when I am asked about Cuban jazz.
I had never heard of Harold Lopez-Nussa before I saw him at Jazz St. Louis. In fact, I didn’t even Goggle him before the performance like I usually do before seeing a new artist. So I went without any expectations. I went to the show as if I were new to jazz, with no prejudices, no sense of what I was going to hear, and no preview via YouTube.
With little introduction from the stage, the Harold Lopez-Nussa Trio jumped right in, just like you would expect as if you turned the corner in Old Havana and found them playing on the street or in a small cafe. They weren’t old like you would expect from Cuban posters or picture books, but quite young, modern and sophisticated. After apologizing for his “Spanglish,” Harold introduced his band which included his younger brother Ruy Adrián López-Nussa on drums and friend Gaston Joya Perellada on bass.
Their songs moved from slow and romantic to fast and energizing, but all made me want to move, and even dance, much to my wife’s surprise. Harold is a virtuoso on piano and you can tell he is as comfortable playing classical music as he is jamming in a cigar filled club. His brother is fast and precise on drums, and his short, loud bursts on cymbals followed by soft riffs on bongos stole the show at times. The brotherly love was palpable as they shot each other smiles and even played the piano side-by-side as they did as boys growing up. Their “brother-by-another-mother” Gaston was not to be outdone, and he played a mean double bass while he danced with it like a high school sweetheart.
On more than one occasion, the crowd burst into applause thinking the song was over, just to realize the band loved long pauses in their music only to pick up where they left off many beats later. While very typical of Cuban jazz, the St. Louis audience learned to listen for these delays, and by the end of the first set started to understand the Cuban rhythm. The finale was amazing as each artist played their heart out, but I have to admit I couldn’t stop looking at the drummer Ruy as he worked to impress the crowd and his brother alike.
Don’t worry if you have never heard of Harold Lopez-Nussa or his band. You will. Go see them while they are in St. Louis (for their first time) because it’s like going to Havana for 70 minutes. And I promise you will not be able to get their sound out of your head.
Tickets are still available for Thursday thru Saturday evening (Oct. 19-21) at Jazz St. Louis, by calling the box office at 314-571-6000 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.