Alfredo Rodríguez’s Coral Way radiates positive energy without relying on good vibes, a show of skill and passion that pushes his career further forward.
By Adriane Pontecorvo for Pop Matters
Jazz pianist and former Quincy Jones protégé Alfredo Rodríguez has always thrived in brighter hues. Though he’s never shied from sparser or more solemn moments–the haunting title track of 2016’s Tocororo remains some of his most breathtaking work–it’s never at the expense of a vibrant musical palette.
The new album Coral Way may be his most vivid work to date. Inspired less by his memories of growing up and living in Cuba (as much of his past work has been) and more by his present-day in Miami with a flourishing international career and growing family, Coral Way dazzles from start to finish, never anything less than balmy as Rodríguez brings his signature ease and zest to the keys. As usual, he brings in a few guests along the way, which make for an even more invigorating mix of sounds.
The opening title track sets the mood. Rodríguez’s keys step out with a confident stride, laying a solid foundation for the entire ensemble, whose intricate instrumental phrases (Juanma Montoya’s guitars are especially charged) and brassy exclamations make for lively conversation. It’s one of Coral Way‘s most straightforward pieces and makes for a warm welcome.
The rest of Coral Way sees the core ensemble–Rodríguez, Montoya, Yarel Hernandez on bass, Michael Olivera on drums, Marcelo Woloski on percussion, Carlos Sarduy on trumpet, Regis Molina on alto sax, and Denis Cuni on trombone–working in tight tandem. “Blueberry Fields” is a pastoral dream with minimal brass and a sprinkling of percussion. They cover Dominican artist Juan Luis Guerra’s “La Bilirrubina” with a particularly nimble touch before a heftier original composition, “Maracuyá”, on which Montoya, Sarduy, and Molina take time to throw the spotlight back and forth in moments of play. The brass section steps aside for the titular nostalgia of “Distant Memories”, while Olivera and Woloski let loose with shimmering rhythms beneath keys and guitar. The record ends with a light-hearted retooling of “Für Elise”, a way to keep Coral Way safe from too much gravitas while giving Rodríguez a final chance to show off his considerable musical agility.
Alfredo Rodríguez’s piano skill should not be doubted at this point (Quincy Jones doesn’t take just any artist under his wing). Still, Coral Way tests more intangible qualities: musicianship, expressiveness, and sense of style. Rodríguez, fortunately, has these in spades, especially alongside these collaborators. This album radiates positive energy without relying on good vibes, a show of skill and passion that pushes Rodríguez’s career even further forward.