Sounds Of Space, the title of Cuban pianist and composer Alfredo Rodríguez’ debut recording, evokes images of science fiction. In truth, it’s about a far more personal adventure. “It’s about the space that surrounds us,” he explains. “In this record I wanted to introduce myself: here are the people, the places and the sounds that have surrounded me, and made me who I am.”
The album comprises 11 tracks composed and arranged by Rodríguez. It includes nods to Cuban masters such as Ernesto Lecuona, but also pianistic models such as Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk; it draws on the tradition, but it has a personal imprint. And now and then, Sounds Of Space is also shaped by nostalgia for a country left behind, so near yet so far.
Born in Havana, Cuba, the son of a popular singer, television presenter and entertainer of the same name, Rodríguez began his formal music education at seven. Percussion, not piano, was his first choice. “But…to choose what I wanted I had to wait until I was 10,” he explains. “So I picked piano. By the time I could actually switch to percussion, I knew the piano was my path.”
In 2006, Rodríguez was selected to play at the Montreux Jazz Festival. While there, he was invited to a gathering at the house of the festivals’ founder and director, Claude Nobs, who asked him if he would play for Quincy Jones.
“And of course I said yes,” recalls Rodríguez. “I remember I played an arrangement I had written of ‘I Love You,’ by Cole Porter. And when I finished, Quincy said he liked it a lot and that he wanted to work with me. That was amazing. That someone I admire so much would be interested in doing something with me was incredible. But I’m a realist, and while it was a nice idea I thought it would be difficult. And it was.”
Still, a month later, back in Cuba, he received an email from Jones’ Vice President Adam Fell. “Then I knew this was serious. That’s when I decided I was coming to the U.S.”
Now, in Sounds Of Space, the arc of the music suggests a young artist looking back and forward, taking stock at the beginning of a new road.