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Kennies blow through with a Cuban hot on their heels
By MICHAEL C. BURGESS
Village News October 30, 1999

The inside of the auditorium at the Neurosciences Institute looks as if it were once an enormous piece of white cardstock that giant hands have folded to create by origami a hangar for a stealth bomber. It has to be this oddly sculpted effect that provides th efine acoustic environment into which the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library draws some of the world's finest jazz musicians for its fall concert series.

The Athenaeum's audience on Sunday, Oct. 24, was privileged to hear internationally acclaimed trumpet and fluegelhorn master Kenny Wheeler make his San Diego debut just two months short of his 70th birthday.

His latest CD, "A Long Time Ago," was released last week on ECM and offers chamber-style sounds for brass, including a return to the land of Gnu on the track "Gnu Suite."

Standing ramrod straight throughout both halves of the two-hour set, he demonstrated a stamina that would have been no less impressive in a man 20 years younger. The quality of his tone is as legendary ability to build a long line improvisationally into very long intricate phrases. But despite his technical brilliance, his performance had something of a sterile quality that was not helped by his solemn demeanor, possibly understandable in a Canadian who has spent most of his life in England.

The session was brightened up a touch by the collaboration of three cheerful Americans. Pianist Kenny Werner, author of "Effortless Mastery" (a book that, since its publication in January 1997, has been changing the way jazz is played, and listened to) has been on the road with Wheeler throughout the current tour; and his lyrical improvisational skills at the keyboard, sometimes reminiscent of Keith Jarrett, complement those of Wheeler's horn. The temporary duo has been referred to as "The Two Kennies" in Edmonton and Denver.

Jovial drummer Peter Erskine, a former member of each of the Kennies' past bands, joined in for this one La Jolla date because the Athenaeum's program director Daniel Atkinson thought it would be cool to engineer a reunion. Bass player Dave Carpenter completed the rhythm section and was no less impressive than his distinguished companions. La Jolla lapped it up. However, calls for an encore went unanswered.

But a few tickets may still be available for the second concert of the series, at which the lineup will comprise pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba with Jeff Chambers on bass and Ignacio Berroa on drums. Rubalcaba's Cuban roots are intrinsic to his music, but subtly so. Atkinson said, "He's an amazing keyboard technician, in addition to having a really compelling musical sense." Dizzy Gillespie was so impressed by the young Rubalcaba that he attempted to recruit him into his United Nations Orchestra in 1989 for a concert in New York's Central Park, but Rubalcaba could not get a visa because of the United States' embargo on Cuba.

The State Department only permitted Rubalcaba to enter the country to serve as an honorary pallbearer at Gillespie's funeral in 1993. Shortly after that, a heavyweight lobbying campaign won him the freedom to play concerts to enraptured American audiences.

Of the CDs he has recorded with Blue Note, "Inner Voyage" is a must-hear. The concert is on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 8 p.m. at The Neurosciences Institute, 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive (north off Genesee Ave., near N. Torrey Pines Rd.). Free parking adjacent to the institute. Recording/photography not allowed. Admission is $19 for Athenaeum members. $22 for nonmembers. Call 858-454-5872 to reserve.