Harold López-Nussa’s music reflects the full range and richness of Cuban music, with its distinctive combination of classical, folkloric, and popular elements, as well as its embrace of jazz improvisation and interaction. His career gracefully spans styles. Early on, he recorded Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Cuba’s National Symphony Orchestra (2003) and won first prize at the Jazz Solo Piano Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland (2005). He was featured on the albums Ninety Miles, playing alongside jazz stars David Sánchez, Christian Scott, and Stefon Harris, and Esencial, with compositions by revered Cuban classical guitarist, composer, and conductor Leo Brouwer. López-Nussa spent three years in the touring band of the beloved Cuban singer Omara Portuondo.
Un Día Cualquiera, López-Nussa’s second release for Mack Avenue Records, represents his musical vantage point with force and innovation. He tells this story—his story—with drama, heartfelt emotion, and consummate skills. Un Día Cualquiera is a forceful statement from a Cuban musician leading his tight-knit Cuban band, recorded in the United States (at WGBH Studios in Boston, MA), and influenced by music from both countries in ways that transcend narrow notions of “Latin jazz.” The album nods to classic Cuban composers and musicians, but it focuses mostly on López-Nussa’s original compositions and his distinctive trio concept. These compositions are mostly new, save for one or two, such as the opener, “Cimarrón,” which are older pieces reinvented for the present moment.
The ease and invention with which he improvises at the piano and the suppleness with which his trio swings make it hard to believe that López-Nussa did not really take up jazz until he was eighteen years old. “Jazz was scary,” he says. “Improvisation was scary.” Yet he felt emboldened by Herbie Hancock’s 1996 album, The New Standard, of jazz interpretations of pop, rock, and R&B songs. “That gave me new ideas about what was possible, and what I could do,” he says. He found inspiration, too, from Cuba’s great jazz pianists—the ongoing work of the reigning master Chucho Valdés, as well as recordings of Chucho’s father, the late Bebo Valdés. López-Nussa’s composition “Una Tarde Cualquiera en Paris” pays homage to the calm, reflective quality of Bebo’s pianism. Another López-Nussa original, “Mi Son Cerra’o,” is meant to evoke the sound and spirit of the early descargas (jam sessions) in which Bebo played the earliest Cuban jazz recordings. López-Nussa’s tender rendition of “Contigo en la Distancia,” a bolero written by Cuban singer-songwriter César Portillo de la Luz in 1946 (covered in the decades since by singers ranging from Plácido Domingo to Christina Aguilera), reveals lessons learned on bandstands accompanying Omara Portuondo. “She showed me how to put all of your passion, your whole existence, into a single song,” he says.
Young Harold López-Nussa is among the greatest pianists of Cuba.
Simply a genius, a star