Trumpeter Rodriguez-Pena’s group is deeply rooted in the rhythmic-charged tradition of habanera, guaracha, danzon, rumba and mambo, but he infuses that foundation with decidedly modern jazz elements, which is evident in the interactive nature of his sextet, particularly in the bristling call-and-response changes he has on the bandstand with tenor saxophonist Kazemde George and in the modernist McCoy Tynerish harmonic touches supplied by pianist-arranger Gabriel Chakarji. A thoughtful composer-arranger, potent soloist with a bold, bright tone and savvy bandleader, Rodriguez-Pena’s group grabs listeners with infectious grooves as it provokes with heady harmonies and thrilling improvisations. As his mentor Arturo O’Farrill put it: “He understands the greatest mission that Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo spoke of, he understands that the conversation is far deeper than to be dogmatic.”
Since moving the New York City in 2014, Cuban trumpeter-composer-arranger Kali Rodriguez-Pena has been blending traditional sounds from his native country with the influences of his jazz trumpet heroes like Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard and the compositional inspiration from Wayne Shorter’s music, along with elements of R&B and hip-hop. Solidly established on the scene, he is poised to become one of the leading voices of a young generation of talented young Cuban musicians who are taking their best shot in the Big Apple.
A professional player since 2007, Rodriguez-Pena has shared the stage with such world-renowned musicians as Wynton Marsalis, Arturo O’Farrill, Paquito D’Rivera, Chucho Valdés, Anat Cohen, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Miguel Zenón, Jeff “Tain” Watts, David Murray, Cándido Camero, Olga Tañón, and Bobby Carcasses, among others. He has played in some of the top venues of New York including Birdland, Symphony Space, Rainbow Room, Dizzy’s Jazz Club Coca-Cola, David Rubenstein Atrium, Zinc Bar, Subrosa and ShapeShifter Lab. This is his third time performing at the Exit Zero Jazz Festival and first time leading his own band.
Currently finishing his degree in Jazz Performance at Manhattan School of Music while leading his own band in different clubs around New York, Kali is already being hailed as one of the new Rising Stars of the Latin Jazz. “I want to break with the concept of what ‘Cuban music’ is or means,” he says. “Cuban music is more than what people think. I know my roots and I love them, but I also live in the 21st century and I believe in upgrades. I want to modernize the Cuban music. I want to merge everything I know and I’ve learned so far. I think is possible, and I don’t have to lose my roots to do this.”