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Giovanni Hidalgo with Dizzy Gillespie & Paquito D’Rivera: Villa Hidalgo

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Giovanni Hidalgo - photo by congahead.com
Master Percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo. Photo: congahead.com

Giovanni Hidalgo as of today [March 2015] is just fifty-two years old, but he has been a professional percussionist for a little over forty years. This is remarkable. Very few percussionists, even those in the rest of the Caribbean—breeding crowd of drummers in this part of the world, have achieved this unique distinction. After playing in several bands his career took off when he joined the legendary band of Charlie Palmieri, before becoming one of the founders of the seminal group Batacumbele that was soon to become one of the most innovative ensembles to come out of the Americas. During this period Giovanni Hidalgo came under the influence of two of the greatest tumbadores: José Luis Quintana “Changuito” and the great Tata Güines. Mr. Hidalgo’s playing changed forever as he developed his one voice as one of the premier percussion colourist’s of his generation. Throughout Mr. Hidalgo began honing his skills on a bewildering array of percussion instruments all of which had their origins in Africa, but which then developed in countries as far removed as Africa, Cuba and Brazil.

Giovanni Hidalgo: Villa Hidalgo
Giovanni Hidalgo: Villa Hidalgo [album cover]

It was only in 1992 that Giovanni Hidalgo cut his first album. Villa Hidalgo on Timba, a part of the German imprint Termidor, showcased his skills as one of the most highly sophisticated percussionists to grace the Afro-Cuban world of rhythmists. It already shows the percussionist who plays at a highly consistent level of orchestrational prowess throughout the collection of songs, written specifically for him. Mr. Hidalgo shows off his skill on a dazzling assortment of drums and percussion instruments, each of which is always placed in its best light. Mr. Hidalgo also shows off his remarkable skills while exploiting the technique and timbral possibilities of each instrument drawing on the vocabulary of Afro-Brasilian and Afro-Caribbean language, avoiding cliché. Each song is a vivid vignette rather like a moving picture of music in miniature. Throughout his outstanding display of rhythmic wizardry Giovanni Hidalgo expands the range of each of the instruments he plays on this record. Although he is consistent throughout, the vehicles that highlight his extraordinary musicianship are “Ianmanuel” and “Yuliria”. Both pieces bring attention to Mr. Hidalgo’s percussion intuitive skill, while enabling us to discover two thoroughly listenable charts and his own composition “Ianmanuel”, the only one on this record, represents a big step in the direction that his career subsequently took: an impassioned and enraptured performer who continually pushes the envelope whenever he plays.

There are three other performances that are noteworthy as well. The first, “Villa Hidalgo”, features Mr. Hidalgo’s great mentor Dizzy Gillespie, whose solo is instantly recognisable for his rhythmic extravagance and melodic genius. The other piece is “Bahia San Juan” which is graced by the presence of Paquito D’Rivera on alto saxophone who kicks up his improvisational heels. And then there is Joe Zawinul’s immortal “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, written for the Cannonball Adderley quintet. This is one of the zestiest pieces on the record. These together with the rest of the fare show Giovanni Hidalgo to be a budding genius playing with virtuoso-like abandon as he applies a singing quality to every phrase, making for glorious climactic moments on his illustrious debut record.

Track List – Villa Hidalgo; Trópica; Ianmanuel; Amunizaje; Bahia San Juan; Lisi; Yuliria; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; Songo Pa’ Ti

Personnel – Giovanni Hidalgo: conga {solo: 5, 9}, shékere, timbales, batá (iyá and itótele), surdo, bongó, tamborin, cowbell, low cowbell, percussion and sound effects; Tommy Villarini: trumpet (1, 2 {solo}, 4, 5, 6 {solo}, 8, 9); David Sánchez: tenor saxophone (1, 2, 4 {solo}, 5, 6, 8 {solo}, 9); Amuni Nacer: keyboard (1, 4, 6, 9), piano (4, 5 {solo}, 8, 9 {solo}, violins (6); Eric Figueroa: piano (1, 2 {solo}, 7), keyboard (3); José Gazmey: bass (1, 2, 4 {solo}, 5, 6, 8, 9); Carlos Pérez: drums (1, 2, 3, 4 {solo}, 6, 8, 9), cowbell, sticks (3); Sabú Rosendo: shékere (1, 3, 5, 9), percussion (1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9), cuica (4), ganzá (4); Little Johnny: cowbell (1), güiro (2, 8); David Cuba: conga, cowbell (3); Carlos Rodriguez: batá (okónkolo) (3); Cachete Maldonado: batá (iyá) (5); Pepe Jiménez: percussion (8); Dizzy Gillespie: trumpet (1 {solo}); Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone (5 {solo})

Released – 1992
Label – Timba Records
Runtime – 51:57

YouTube Playlist – Giovanni Hidalgo: Villa Hidalgo

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