When I was a young pianist just starting out in the music business, I heard an amazing album by conga master Patato Valdes on the LP label. I'd been experimenting with a kind of approach to playing that I hadn't heard before and assumed was mine alone. Suddenly, on the album's first track “El Ambulancia,” I heard what I'd been working on transmogrified through the cultural prism of salsa. I'd just been introduced to Alfredo Rodriguez.
I've been an Alfredo Rodriguez fan ever since. His style is immediately recognizable — a totally unique blend of traditional Cuban piano playing, New York '70s salsa and vaguely boppish single note lines, combined with blindingly fast clusters, quadruple octaves and chromatic fourths that create a blur of sound. Over the course of Oye Afra, Rodriguez shows off the entire panoply. He plays an elegant opening solo on “Claudia,” digs into as funky a line as you'll ever hear halfway through “Aquardiente,” sounds like Bobby Timmons on “Mario's Blues,” and ends up tearing the roof off the casa on the last cut, “Oye Afra.” The coro on this piece is absolutely wonderful, by the way; I wish it had gone on much, much longer.
Since 1985, Rodriquez has made Paris his home. Clearly, being away from the source of his music hasn't been deleterious; Oye Afra finds him at the top of his game.