"Three minds in a noble endeavor." That's how jazz critic Howard Mandel defines the concept of the trio in his notes for "The Blessing", Gonzalo Rubalcaba's second production for Blue Note.

The trio has been the Cuban pianist's favorite format since he began recording for Bruce Ludvall's label eight years ago. With that format Rubalcaba has been accompanied by such jazz tigers like bassists Charlie Haden, Ron Carter and John Patitucci and drummers Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motian and Julio Barreto.

After working together with Joe Lovano in "Flying Colors" and blending Cuba's Yoruba music with electronic jazz in "Antiguo," Rubalcaba returns to a trio format in "Inner Voyage," his tenth production for Blue Note. This time he's accompanied by bassist Jeff Chambers and Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa. This is Rubalcaba's most stable trio; he's been playing with them for more than two years. And with them he will perform on December 10, at the Symphony Center.

"The trio gives me an incredible freedom as performer and composer," stated Rubalcaba during a telephone interview from his home in Florida. "It demands from me a greater evolution in the language of jazz, to go deeper and find different doors to link my culture with the language of jazz.

"Jeff is capable of working with the codes that define our Cuban culture with certain ease and fluidity. Besides, he believes that it is important to approach that language," continues the 36 year-old musician. "Ignacio has been linked for many years to quite different means of making music. He has done be-bop, has played with swing bands, with Tito Puente, been into Latin jazz, has performed authentically Cuban music in the traditional sense. He is very versatile and every time he takes on a genre, he does it with tremendous integrity, with an incredible ease. Those are the elements that help this trio propose different things, with other elements, with other energy."

"Inner Voyage" is, so far, Rubalcaba's most intimate and personal disc. Of the nine themes featured on the disc, seven are original compositions dedicated to the people that have left, and keep leaving, a mark on his life: his children Joao (age 9), Joan (age 6) and Yolanda Annas (age 3); Ron Carter, Bruce Lundvall, and a couple, Sandy and Kenneth.

"'Inner Voyage' is one of the least prepared discs in that sense. Each one of those pieces appeared spontaneously over time" said Rubalacaba. "I was writing them with no thought given to any specific production, just to have them around and play them as long as it was possible to do so. It wasn't until shortly before going to the studio that we realized that they could become a very complete production in that sense."

Recently recognized by Piano & Keyboard magazine as one of the great pianists of the 20th century (the only Cuban on the list), Rubalcaba will dedicate his next production to Cuban classical music. "Up to now I have works from six composers: Manuel Saumell, who was born in the 19th century and, in a way, defined Cuban nationality in terms of classical works; Ignacio Cervantes, Alejandro Garcma Caturla, Amadeo Roldan, Ernesto Lecuona, Leo Brouwer," Rubalcaba foretells. "It's purely a disc of composers who soared, or are now soaring, and yet are not all that well known, at least here in the U.S. But their works are worth promoting, and performing."

Alejandro Riera is a Staff Writer for !Exito!, the Spanish-language weekly published by the Chicago Tribune. Translation by Benito Garcma.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba and his Trio/Abbey Lincoln and his Trio
WHEN: December 10
WHERE: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.
SHOWTIME: 8:00 p.m.
ADMISSION: $20-$70
PHONE: (312) 294-3000