If you had stopped by this site last month, you may have stumbled across a post on classically trained, Havana-Cuba-born and based jazz pianist and composer Harold Lopez-Nussa. Nussa was born into a very musical family as his father and uncle are both working musicians and his late mother, Mayra Torres was a highly-regarded piano teacher; in fact. when Harold 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 explains in press notes. Then came jazz, which the Cuban pianist and composer admits was initially was very frightening for him.
“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,” Lopez Nussa said in press notes. And 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 touring band. Naturally, all of those experiences have deeply influenced Lopez Nusa’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 Stateside release of Lopez-Nussa’s latest effort (the album drops here on Friday) 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. Now last month I wrote about two singles from the album “Mozambique en Mi B” and “Feria,” two tracks which possessed an understated and elegant simplicity that made them sound and feel timeless, as they nodded 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. The album’s latest single, album title track “El Viaje” continues within the same vein of its preceding singles as the track consists of gently propulsive Afro-Caribbean percussion, a gorgeous, a stately horn line paired with the a sensual interplay between Wade’s tender and yearning vocals and Lopez Nussa’s dexterous blocks of piano chords providing melody and emotional heft in a breathtakingly gorgeous and accessible ballad.
The recently released video for the song splits its focus between a man walking down dusty roads and canopied forests, before rowing to a yet unknown destination and footage of the musicians recording the song and hanging out in the studio — and interestingly enough, the video evokes the joy and wonder in traveling to someplace completely new; the profoundly lonely recognition of being a stranger in a strange place, where you don’t understand the language; the longing for seeing a face like yours in a crowd; the longing for home and the joy of returning home.