New Audio: Introducing the Inventive and Playful, Cuban-born Pianist and Composer Harold Lopez-Nussa

Classically trained Havana, Cuba-born and based jazz pianist and composer Harold Lopez-Nussa was born into a very musical family. Not only are his father and uncle are both working musicians, his late mother Mayra Torres was a highly-regarded piano teacher. When Lopez-Nussa turned eight, he began studying at Manuel Saumell Elementary School of Music, then the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and finally graduating with a degree in classical piano from the Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA). “I studied classical music and that’s all I did until I was 18,” Lopez-Nussa said in press notes. Then came jazz.

“Jazz was scary. Improvisation was scary. That idea of not knowing what you are going to play . . “the Cuban pianist and composer explains. “At school I learned the works of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven and then it was all very clear. That permanent risk in which jazz musicians find themselves in all the time was terrifying—of course, now I find myself in that risk all the time.” And yet interestingly enough, throughout his recording career Lopez-Nussa has found himself moving between classical, jazz and pop music rather easily.  He has recorded a rendition of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Fourth Piano Concerto” with Cuba’s National Symphony Orchestra back in 2003; has won the First Prize and Audience Price of the Jazz Solo Piano Compeition at the Monterux Jazz Festival in 2005; has collaborated with David Sanchez, Christian Scott and Stefon Harris on Ninety Miles in 2011; has made an appearance on Esencial, an album of compositions by revered Cuban classical guitarist, composer and conductor Leo Brouwer, also in 2011; and as far as more popular projects, he was involved in the Cuba volume of Rhythms del Mundo, which had him recording songs with members of the world-famous Buena Vista Social Club; and he spent three years as part of the Omara Portuondo’s tuouring band — and naturally those experiences have deeply influenced the Cuban pianist and composer’s own personal style and aesthetic.

El Viaje, Lopez-Nussa’s latest full-length effort features the Cuban pianist and composer’s trio, which includes his younger brother Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa (drums and percussion) and Senegalese bassist and vocalist Alune Wade, as well as guest appearances from the Lopez-Nussas father Ruy Francisco on drums, Mayquel González on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Dreiser Durruthy and Adel González on percussion.  Alune Wade’s collaboration with Lopez-Nussa goes back to when the duo worked together on Havana-Paris-Dakar, and as Lopez-Nussa explains, “Having a non-Cuban musician on this recording speaks to our contact with other cultures. Especially with African culture, which is so far from ours geographically and yet so close. Every time we play, I believe we enter into a journey we are creating.”

Interestingly, the upcoming Stateside release of Lopez-Nussa’s latest effort comes as the US has begun to lift the embargo started during the Kennedy Administration and normalize diplomatic, cultural and trade relations — and in fact, it’ll be the first album by a Cuban-based artist to see a complete international release in more than 50 years. And as a teaser of what you should expect to hear off the album and the Cuban pianist and composer’s Stateside tour, you can check out two singles from the album “Mozambique en Mi B” and “Feria.” And from both tracks, Lopez-Nussa’s compositions possess an understated and elegant simplicity that makes both “Mozambique en Mi B” and “Feria” sound and feel timeless; in some way, they nod at bop era jazz — hinting at the charm and mischievous wit and stunning melodicism of Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk but meshing that with a breezy and danceable tropicalia and Afro-Cuban/Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms. And while mining from somewhat familiar territory, if you’ve listened to as much jazz as I have, the material possesses a vitality that separates it from countless others.  Check out how the interplay between Lopez-Nussa’s piano chords and Wade’s bass and vocals seem as though they’re flirtatiously dancing with each other on “Feria,” while “Mozambique en Mi B,” sounds as though it were heavily influenced by samba and includes a deft and gorgeous Lopez-Nussa solo — and it’s in those moments that the Havana-born and based pianist and composer reveals himself as arguably one of the more inventive, contemporary composers you’ll come across.















Tour Dates

Aug 10 / The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor / Boothbay Harbor, ME

Aug 11 / Payomet Performing Arts Center / Truro, MA

Aug 12 / Shalin Liu Performance Center / Rockport, MA

Aug 14 / SFJAZZ Center Miner Auditorium / San Francisco, CA

Aug 14 / San Jose Jazz Summer Fest Jade Leaf Lounge / San Jose, CA

Aug 15 / Kuumbwa Jazz Center / Santa Cruz, CA

Aug 18 / Vail Jazz Festival (Special Guest w. Maraca) / Vail, CO

Aug 19 / Aspen Snowmass Jazz Festival (Special Guest w. Maraca) / Aspen, CO

Aug 30 / Cotton Club / Tokyo, Japan

Sept 2 / Musashino Swing Hall / Musashino (Tokyo), Japan

Sept 3 / NHIC Tokyo JazzFest (Forum Hall A) / Tokyo, Japan

Sept 4 / Detroit Jazz Festival / Detroit, MI

Sept 5 / Detroit Jazz Festival / Detroit, MI

Oct 4 / Gateway City Arts / Holyoke, MA

Oct 5 / Museum of Fine Arts / Boston, MA

Oct 6 – 7 / The Berrie Center (Ramapo College) / Mahwah, NJ

Oct 8 / The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Terrace Club) /Washington, DC

Oct 11 / Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center) / New York, NY

Oct 13 / The Side Door / Old Lyme, CT

Oct 14 / BRIC Jazz Festival / Brooklyn, NY

Oct 15 / Chris’ Jazz Cafe / Philadelphia, PA

Oct 18 / Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant / Minneapolis, MN

Oct 19 / SPACE-Society for the Preservation of Art & Culture Evanston /Evanston (Chicago), IL

Oct 21 / The Dirty Dog Cafe / Detroit (Grosse Point), MI

Oct 22 / The Dirty Dog / Detroit (Grosse Point), MI

Oct 23 / Baur’s Listening Lounge / Denver, CO

Oct 27 / Blue Whale / Los Angeles, CA

May 6 / Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center / Davie, FL