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Interviews & Reviews - Concert Review: Ernán López Nussa
Concert Review: Ernán López Nussa at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music
Milwaukee WI 27 August 2011
Review and all photos by Bill Tilford
All Rights Reserved
(L to R: Ernán López Nussa, piano/leader; Jorge "Sawa" Perez, bass; Jimmy Branly, drums)
After an absence of far too long from the American Midwest, Ernán López Nussa came into Wisconsin during the weekend of August 26-28, 2011. On the 27th, he performed at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee. The Conservatory is undertaking a significant expansion of its Latin Jazz program and will be worth watching in the future as this evolves.
Ernán, one of Cuba's best (and underrecognized) jazz pianists, performed with two of his former colleagues, Jimmy Branly (drums) and Jorge "Sawa" Perez (bass). Although it had been well over a decade (perhaps even two?) since the three of them had performed together, you wouldn't have known this from the performance, in which they sounded as if they had still been playing together all along. This was not just two sidemen accompanying a stellar soloist, but rather a conversational and interactive performance with wonderful solo work by all three.
Ernán's musical background is encyclopaedic, integrative and adaptive all at the same time, and the performance reflected this as it drew upon everything from early Cuban popular music and ragtime to some classical ingredients, some Ellington (Sophisticated Lady), an especially engaging Life of the Party (Tony Williams) and too many other ingredients to describe here. He doesn't go in for free jazz or dissonance but uses almost everything else as raw material in his work with equal skill. Rather like Art Tatum, Ernán can take a piece and expand or even reinvent it to make you look at it in new and wonderful ways (he also, of course, performs many of his own compositions as well). Like Art, he also makes it look effortless, foregoing the types of theatrical physical flourishes used by many modern pianists. (Unlike Art, he is at peace with bebop as well.) We aren't going to formally equate the two just yet, mainly because we haven't seen how Ernán would fare in Mr. Tatum's legendary improviser-on-the-spot role, and we wouldn't put anyone under that much pressure without their informed consent. We will tell you that when he is on a roll, the listener can sometimes end up in a similar place.
Having said all of that, this Chicagoan was delighted to hear the trio perform a wonderful set in Wisconsin but also chagrined that there weren't any Chicago bookings this year, especially since there is a difference of less than 90 miles between the two cities. The Ernán López Nussa Trio belongs at the Chicago Jazz Festival or an event of similar stature here next year, and we hope that those responsible for booking jazz in Chicago in 2012 will take note. We also hope that he makes it back to Wisconsin soon as well. Curiously, when he performed in Chicago in 1999, he got rave reviews and then fell off our region's radar for a decade in spite of that. We should all refrain from repeating that mistake.
See also our review of Ernán's most recent CD/DVD. Pas de Trois , and his official website is Sitio Oficial de Ernán López Nussa