Rubalcaba is long on technique, and when he connects with a dramatic flurry, he’s unstoppable. And there were moments within his five-song opening set in which he showed how comfortable he is using the language of modern jazz without adding — for better or worse — any cultural baggage.
Despite having turned out some marvelously modern albums for the Blue Note imprint that show how strong his vocabulary is, he has yet to figure out what he wants to say.
Trumpeter Reynaldo Melian proffered a shiny tone chock-full of trapped air. (Rubalcaba was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie, an explanation perhaps as to why he stays away from another lead instrument in the group.) He attempts to make the trumpet sound prettier than it can and he stays within a middle register rather than attempting any ear-piercing hijinx. Felipe Cabrera, playing a five-string electric bass, delivered some sharp guitar-like solos, but his fundamentals lacked any fire or personality.
But the turbulence generated by drummer Julio Barreto broke up the flow with uncanny — and unnerving — consistency. His heavy-handed approach to everything kept nuance limited to Rubalcaba’s solo introductions; eventually Barreto’s bashing was going every which way but straight. The man needs a volume control, even on the brushes.
The novelty of seeing the pianist — a Cuban national with a band that was unable to receive working visas until this year — continues to be an attraction; the house was packed for Tuesday’s opening set. But even with his own musicians (earlier L.A. performances have been with a trio and solo) on the bandstand, Rubalcaba has yet to communicate with his musicians and provide a cogent message to his audience.