Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
Alfredo Rodríguez is a figurehead of the new generation of Cuban jazz musicians who observe and honor their roots while constantly seeking new avenues for expression. The 32-year-old pianist's new album, The Little Dream, evokes Keith Jarrett, Jaco Pastorious and Pat Metheny in equal parts, but the rhythms of Cuba, those guïro grooves can get anybody reeling and rocking, are etched into the music's bones.
Rodríguez, bassist/guitarist Munir Hossn and drummer Michael Olivera flesh out ethereal, almost pastoral soundscapes, lending a delicate, child-like wonder to the album's heaviest compositions. In "Bloom," the melodies spread and grow, as if they were mirroring the growth and blossom of some magnificent, delicate flower. "Tree of Stars" shrinks the vastness of a starry night into a piquant, delicately pointed rendering of each star's twinkle. "World of Colors," an almost solo feature for Rodríguez, captures ecstatic joy and melancholy in the span of 120 seconds.
For every tone poem, Rodríguez reinterprets the sounds of his homeland in spry, whirling dances. The rhythms that animate Santería rituals, the mambos that spring forth new romances on the daily, these are what animate the delicate dance of piano, guitar, and drum kit on the celebratory "Alegria," the hymnal "Vamos Todos A Cantor," and industrially inclined "Silver Rain."
The Little Dream's title track serves as the album's manifesto. Vibrant passages of harmonic development, heralded by a Yoruba choir, give way to unified tangos up and down the fret and keyboard. With each melodic pirouette, the music takes on more and more the shape of a ballerina, dancing delicately en pointe.