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A Quiet 'Lullaby' Hides a Bittersweet Lament

In many moments during Gonzalo Rubalcaba's Solo, the music, whether a deep lullaby or a volcanic outbreak, speaks more precisely about an emotion than words could. On "Lullaby for a Black Child" -- written by Amadeo Roldan (1900-1939), known as the first composer to incorporate Afro-Cuban rhythms into orchestral music -- the tension lies just beneath a lovely, pristine surface.

Rubalcaba, who in recent years has traded the frenetic technical displays of his youth for more spacious music, approaches the piece as one slow-to-congeal thought. He states the theme as if he's walking over glass on tiptoes, and while it's brushed with a touch of obligatory Cuban pathos, Rubalcaba doesn't sensationalize. Instead, as on many of the captivating pieces on this first solo Rubalcaba recording released in the United States, he seems to focus more narrowly, as if following the movements of a child on a playground.

Inside his careful sketch lies his adult knowledge about what, he fears, lies ahead for his titular subject: The graceful motions trace a statement about the cruelty of a world where children are unable to reach their full potential. Rubalcaba registers his dismay with such poise that it's easy to hear little more than "pretty," but sadness abounds in this deceptively deep, quiet lament.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.