The Story

34-year-old Cuban piano sensation Harold Lopez-Nussa is one of the brightest lights on Havana’s thriving jazz scene. The son of drummer Ruy López-Nussa and nephew of pianist Ernan López-Nussa, he gained international attention when he won top honors at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Piano Competition in 2005 (a triumph that earned him a featured festival spot the following year). While touring widely with legendary Buena Vista Social Club vocalist Omara Portuondo, he launched his solo career as the leader of a superlative trio with his younger brother, the phenomenal drummer Ruy Adrián López-Nussa, and bassist Gaston Joya. “These are my closest friends and two of the greatest musicians of my generation in Cuba,” said the dazzling pianist. “We’ve played a lot together through the years, but this is the first time that we’ve toured and recorded as a working trio. When we play to together, something special always happens and I feel comfortable and free, because they know how my music works and where I will go even before I get there.”

Their Exit Zero Jazz Festival debut comes in the wake of producer Michael Kline seeing the band live at the 2019 Havana Jazz Festival. Swept away by Lopez-Nussa’s dazzling piano playing, young brother Ruy Adrián’s crisp, interactive drumming and Luques Curtis’ resounding tumbao groove underneath and poignant arco work, he invited the band to perform at Exit Zero Jazz. Joining the trio will be saxophonist Mayquel Gonzalez.

López-Nussa was born 1983 in Havana, where he still lives. “I need the kind of relaxed life that Havana gives me,” he the pianist, who holds dual citizenship in Cuba and France. “Every time I return to Cuba, I feel something special—not just a connection with my family and friends, but with the place itself. This is where my music comes from, what it talks about.” Growing up in Centro Habana, a neighborhood known for its folkloric Afro-Cuban ceremonies, allowed him to soaked up the rich sounds all around. “There would be two or three ceremonies each week, and I could hear them from my house,” he recalled. “What I soaked in there has never left me.” 

The Sound

Recorded live at Boston’s WGBH Studios, Un Dia Cualqueria (Just Another Day)” is full of classical flourishes, as on the whirlwind “Cimarone,” and exhilarating jams, as on the loose descarga, “Mi Son Cerra’o,” which closes the record on a high-flying note. He pays an elegant, reflective tribute to an early pianist inspiration, Cuban piano legend Bebo Valdés, on the graceful danzón “Una Tarde Cualquiera en Paris,” then delivers a faithful reading of Rafael Hernandez’s classic dance-party rumba from the 1960s, “El Cumbanchero.” The trio’s heartfelt take on the 1946 bolero “Contigo en la Distancia” pays tribute to López-Nussa’s former employer, the great singer Omara Portuondo, who taught him the value of interpreting a song. And “Elegua” translates bata drums rhythms and Yoruba chants, the kind López-Nussa heard in santeria ceremonies growing up, into a jazz trio format. You will hear both the indelible tightness of this remarkable quartet and their sheer joy of making music in their Exit Zero Jazz Festival premiere. 

Michael Kline