Pianist HAROLD LÓPEZ-NUSSA Finds
Creative Inspiration in Sights and Sounds of
Modern-Day Cuba on Upcoming Release, NEW DAY,
Available October 8 on Jazz Village
Every morning that dawns is an opportunity to re-encounter the familiar and look forward to experiencing the new. New Day, the latest release by Harold López-Nussa, is both a homecoming and a step forward for the 30-year-old pianist-composer. After two acclaimed U.S. recordings and the collaborative project Ninety Miles with jazz luminaries Stefon Harris, Christian Scott, and David Sánchez, López-Nussa returns to his native Cuba and to some of his longest-running collaborations for his most compelling outing to date.
"It's my new day," López-Nussa says of the album's title, "my new start. Every day we face obstacles but also the chance to learn from them and make everything better. It's our responsibility to find and build happiness for ourselves and the people around us. Music is the best tool I have to achieve all that; music heals me, and provides the strength that I need to go on."
New Day showcases López-Nussa's ever-growing confidence as both composer and improviser, and features his first use of electronic keyboards on one of his own albums. Looking back, the joy and comfort of home shines through the lively and buoyant playing on New Day. "I haven't recorded in my homeland in a long time," the pianist says. "This made the album really special because here I'm surrounded by the people and situations that inspire my music."
For this recording, the experience mainly centers on López-Nussa's longtime trio with bassist Gastón Joya and drummer - and brother - Ruy Adrián López-Nussa. "Eso fue hace 20" features a guest appearance by trumpeter Mayquel González, who also co-wrote the album's title track and has played with López-Nussa since the pianist formed his first band. The bonus track, "La paz que me domina," was co-written and features vocals by Kelvis Ochoa.
"I'm very lucky to have these musicians play my music," López-Nussa says. "They always provide a lot. All of us have a classical music background and I think that's something that joins us in a meaningful way. But in a personal sense, they're all close friends of mine, and this is something that you can feel through the music."
None are closer, of course, than Ruy Adrian, the pianist's younger brother. "Playing with my brother is a unique and very special experience," López-Nussa says. "We learned about music and life together, and grew up at the same time in both senses. We've played together since we were children, and understand each other very well musically.
There's a very strong communication between us, but besides that, Ruy is a pianist who plays percussion, so his approach to rhythm is always very singular and musical."
The inspirations that López-Nussa draws from his native country span the breadth and length of Cuba's rich history. The album's opening track, the beguiling, galloping "A degüello," was written in honor of the island's machete-wielding warriors who fought against the Spanish during Cuba's late 19th century War of Liberation. The tense but hopeful flourishes of "Cimarrón" look even further back, to escaped slaves fleeing through the mountains during the Spanish colonial era.
López-Nussa's muse does not live only in the past, however; his compositions for New Day were equally fueled by the sights, sounds, and creativity of modern Cuba as by its legendary history. The multi-hued "Paseo" was born as the pianist walked through the Malecón, the broad esplanade and seawall that stretches along Havana's coast, with beautiful views and bustling nightlife, "full of people and amazing situations," López-Nussa says. And the atmospheric ballad "Eso fue hace 20" was penned for the score of a Cuban-made cartoon, one of several film soundtracks he's composed. López-Nussa's music for the documentary Salvador de Cojímar won the Best Original Soundtrack award at Havana's 9th New Filmmakers Exhibition in 2009.
López-Nussa was born into a musical family in Havana in 1983, the son of drummer Ruy López-Nussa and nephew of pianist Ernan López-Nussa. He began studying at the Manuel Saumell Conservatory at the age of eight, later attending the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and graduating from the Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA). He's performed with Cuba's National Symphony Orchestra and Matanzas Symphony Orchestra as well as such jazz and folk music greats as Chucho Valdés, David Sánchez, and Horacio "El Negro" Hernández.
All of those experiences and influences combine within López-Nussa's music, a commingling that, he says, "happens in a very natural and spontaneous way. Classical music is part of my academic formation; I studied it for many years and I feel that it's still very close to me today. Cuban Music is part of my daily life; I've been listening to it since I was born in a town where you can always hear rumba, a 'toque de santo' and the most popular dance bands from the neighbor's radio.
"And jazz came from my family; my father and my uncle played with jazz groups all the time. I think that it's still a genre where I have yet to discover many things, which is one of the more wonderful things about music. You never know enough, and always have something else to learn."
He won the prestigious Montreux Jazz Piano Competition in 2005 and toured the world with singer Omara Portuondo, made famous as one of the main voices of the Buena Vista Social Club, from 2008-2011. During the same time he focused his attentions on jazz, his star rising to the point where he was one of the Cuban collaborators chosen for the Cuban-American all-star band on Ninety Miles, which was headlined by vibraphonist Stefon Harris, trumpeter Christian Scott, and saxophonist David Sánchez.
"The opportunity to share with these American musicians isn't something that Cuban musicians often have while living in Cuba," López-Nussa says, "so I tried to gain all the knowledge and experience that I could. It would be great if this kind of interchange could happen more often."
With relations between the United States and Cuba mired in a long-term political stalemate, that goal might not be achievable in the foreseeable future, but New Day reveals López-Nussa's eternal optimism as well as the unique combination of influences that make him such a distinctive voice.