Live Music: Alfredo Rodriguez at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA.  Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. seems to have become a musical home base for pianist Alfredo Rodriguez.  On Tuesday night the Cuban-born pianist made yet another of a continuing string of appearances in the elegant Bel Air room, reaching back to his much-heralded arrival in Los Angles in 2009.

This time, however, there was a compelling sense of change in the air.  Rodriguez’s early performances – at Vibrato, as well as the Playboy Jazz Festival – immediately established him as a brilliant talent, gifted with inventive skills and virtuosic technical ability.

All that and much more was present from the very beginning, when a smiling Rodriguez, wearing a bold-striped t-shirt, strode on stage.  Awaiting him, Vibrato’s grand piano stood alone, the absence of a drum set, bass or other instruments making it clear that this would be a solo performance.  But the unexpected presence of a Moog synthesizer and keyboard, positioned over the piano keys, suggested that the journey would travel beyond the territory of acoustic piano alone.

As it did.

The set-up Rodriguez was working with – which was actually more than a synth –allowed him to sequence spontaneous patterns of melody and rhythm.  Laying them down, one track at a time, he built what were essentially compositions on the fly, one element at a time.  In some cases, after establishing expansive, ostinato synth patterns, often employing surging bass rhythms, he soloed above the orchestral-like textures he had created as a foundation.

The results were extraordinary, underscoring Rodriguez’s remarkable ability to apply his brilliant improvisational skills to full scale compositions.  At times he did so, amazingly, by controlling the Moog’s melodic and rhythmic functions via his iPhone (and a Moog controller app).

But there was more.  In addition to his complex, multi-layered synth and piano works, he also offered a few pure acoustic piano pieces.  Several were boleros – “Quesas, Quesas, Quesas” among them — interpreted by Rodriguez with the rich emotional expressiveness of his rapidly maturing talent.

In an earlier review I wrote about his Vibrato appearance in 2009 I made references to Bill Evans youthful work with George Russell and the melodic inventiveness of Keith Jarrett – all of it filtered through Rodriguez’s fertile imagination. All of that, and more, were still present in this remarkable performance.

So, too, was a growing sense of creative maturity.  Playing now with a broader dynamic overview than was often apparent in his earlier appearances, he now displays the musical presence of an artist who has found the fullness of his creative abilities.

From the very beginning of his U.S. performances, Rodriguez’s playing was often a blend of extraordinary abilities combined with the promise of much more to come.   Now, four years later, he’s delivering on that promise.

Photos by Faith Frenz.

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7 Responses to Live Music: Alfredo Rodriguez at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

  1. Dailey Pike says:

    I too was at the performance @ Vibrato on Tuesday as was the great John Altman, composer of what I consider my personal anthem “Look On The Bright Side Of Life.”

    I hope Don & Faith didn’t mind me introducing myself between sets. They’re a charming couple. Great to see Pat Senatore and of course Eden.

    Alfredo’s music was as Don described it. Beautiful.

    I would only add that I found his stage presence a bit lacking, meaning he didn’t engage or even look at the audience at all upon taking the stage or during his performance. Just a brief goodbye at the end of his first set. I left before the second.

    I’m sure he’s an interesting fellow and could have given the audience some insight into his music but…

    I wasn’t looking for Liberace but t-shirt wearing Alfredo was a little too self absorbed.

    Just my humble opinion and perhaps I’m (Ito quote Bruce Forman) “Too hick for the room.”

    Otherwise a great night @ Vibrato as usual.

    • Adam Fell says:

      Wow Dailey Pike….I’m not sure what to say. I’ve managed Alfredo since he came here from Cuba and the absolute last way I would describe him is “too self absorbed.” In fact, I’m so surprised to hear you say this that I’d encourage you to talk to Alfredo next time you go to see him play. I am confident you will be surprised. This kid defected from Cuba and lived with me for 3 years — living in my closet without a penny to his name. You’ve never met anybody who works harder and furthermore who refuses to compromise his artistry, even at the expense of success. I’m like you: too hick for the room, but unlike you, I know Alfredo well…very well.

      • daileypike says:

        Adam, no doubt Alfredo works hard and refuses to compromise his artistry. No doubt at all. He is a talented, accomplished musician. I never questioned that.

        What I was saying was from the perspective of a person hearing/seeing Alfredo for the first time, I simply didn’t hear/see him engaging his audience on a personal level on that particular night.

        I would have loved to hear him talk a little about his music, his journey from Cuba, his struggles. That’s all.

        My sincere apologies if either he or you took offense. That wasn’t my intention. My comments were only meant to be constructive.

      • Adam Fell says:

        Don’t worry Dailey – we’re not offended at all, and hopefully Alfredo can take the criticism constructively. I just want to point out, however, that English is his second language. When he came here 3 years ago, he didn’t speak a word of English, and over the last 3 years, on top of everything else, he’s had to learn English from scratch. Again – if you have a chance, try to talk to him next time you see him play. And don’t worry — we want critique! All good and very best to you!

      • daileypike says:

        Adam,

        I didn’t mention the reason I went to Vibrato in the first place which was to photograph Alfredo. Hopefully what I shot captures his artistry. I’m happy to send you hi-res photos.

        You and Alfredo are free to use them any way you wish. If possible just give me a photo credit. See them here http://smu.gs/XGEmxF

        Email me at DaileyPike@msn.com and i’ll send you a file so you can download all of them.

        I’ll be sure to introduce myself next time I’m at one of Alfredo’s performances.

        Best,

        Dailey

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