By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES — According to 34-year-old Cuban jazz pianist Rolando Luna: “I’ve always known that I was privileged. My first experience backing up a singer was when I was only 15. That was with none other than the great Omara Portuondo.”
HT: Tell us about your new album “Alucinaciones” (Hallucinations).
Rolando Luna: Following my participation in jazz competitions in Europe, there’s been a change in my playing, so one can perceive a difference between my first album and this one. The previous format had a lot of brass and plenty of percussion; therefore it sounded very Cuban. I have to thank that album for making me known and also for winning the Cubadisco award.
Now I’m trying to distance myself from some of my initial work. After the awards at the Montreax Jazz Festival I started sharing stages with jazz musicians influenced by European folk music and American music. Therefore I had to delve into these sounds to be able to participate in that international event, which earned me some important laurels.
I should note that I accomplished all this without losing my “Cubania.” That’s why Alucinaciones is a production influenced by classical music as well as the folk music of France, Russia and Armenia. It’s a mixture of all that, but it also has a Cuban sound and even joropo and samba elements. It’s based on a sound with another vision. Alucinaciones came out of all my experiences abroad, and somehow those led to this new CD.
HT: So have you lost any of your Cuban identity in your current role as a performer?
RL: In my previous work one can note a little more Latin piano compared to my current work. It could be that people will listen to my new album and say it doesn’t seem like a Cuban pianist. It’s not that I’ve lost that sound. I retain that style when I play in other formats, for example when I work with the Buena Vista Social Club and other Cuban groups and recordings.
Of late, I’ve even turned to doing versions of Cuban songs, but bringing a different sound to them. I liked that experiment. It was satisfying, so I wanted to reflect it on this latest album, with my own songs, with my music and with my work.
HT: In addition to your work as a jazz pianist, you’ve accompanied important performers and groups that play Cuban music.
RL: I have done a lot of that. I’ve always known that I was privileged. My first experience backing up a singer was when I was only 15. That was with none other than the great Omara Portuondo. It was an opportunity that allowed me to learn the “feeling” of the guests that Omara brought with her for each performance. In this manner, my whole life has developed based on that.
I also accompanied Miriam Ramos, an important voice of our music. We made records together. I’ve backed up many singers. I’ve recorded several discs with Amaury Perez, Gerardo Alfonzo, Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes.
As I’ve gotten around a lot in the world of recordings, I’ve met and talked with respected performers, including renowned groups that play popular Cuban music. This has greatly enriched my way of playing, because accompanying Omara is different from when you accompany another singer. With each of those voices you learn a different style of piano playing.
HT: We know that every jazz musician is carried away by the emotions of the moment through their improvisation. Does this happen when you have to back up someone else?
RL: One has to know how to let themself be moved by what also moves the composer, to capture their idea. That’s one way of improvising – sometimes being very different, adapting yourself to what the artist intends. Sometimes in the world of recording I’ve wound up playing songs that I didn’t like but the producer did. It would get to the point where I’d say to myself: “I don’t even feel this…,” but I couldn’t do anything about it. The opposite is true also. Those other times I’ve been pleased with what I’ve done and they tell me to do it over again. This is a very interesting aspect.
HT: Can you share any other details with us about your new album Alucinaciones?
RL: There are some very special songs on it, ones dedicated to my professors, for example. The work “Con tu luz” was composed by Andres Allen and Aloy Allen, who have led notable careers in Cuba and are now continuing to do so in Spain. We have songs on this CD that are dedicated to some very dear people.
HT: What would you consider as classics for you as a pianist?
RL: In music schools, we know that the training is classical, of course. I started at the age of 15, and from the beginning I learned all those great composers: Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Chopin… I can let it slip that right now I’m working on a CD with songs by Ernesto Lecuona, one of the essential classical Cuban composers. I also like the “danzas” of Ignacio Cervantes and the work of Alejandro Garcia Caturla.
By the way, my next recording will deal with songs by composers who for me are universal, including Leo Brouwer, Carlos Fariñas and Nico Rojas, but we’re doing them in a jazz format, with jazz versions.
This is my next album that will come out under the Colibri label. It will include a CD along with a video directed by noted filmmaker Lester Hamlet and produced by Juan Manuel Ceruto.
HT: Tell us about Rolando Luna’s recent large international tour?
RL: It was great. I was in about 15 countries in Europe with the Buena Vista Social Club. I also performed with Omara Portuondo in Finland, Norway, where it was freezing cold, but we were very successful.