About a decade ago, Alma Records’ founder and producer Peter Cardinali shared a clutch of recordings he had produced with me over the years. Among them was a large ensemble recording by the pianist and composer Hilario Durán, captured on CD and DVD. The music [reviewed for www.allaboutjazz.com] revealed his absolutely stunning ability for dramatic storytelling. Mr Durán – whose already formidable reputation as an artist of the highest order in Cuba – preceded him to Canada. His prowess as a pianist was beyond reproach after several releases on the Montreal, Quebec imprint, Justin Time.
But a decade or so on [and many more releases on Alma Records], Mr Durán decided it was time for another instalment of music for big band. Once again produced by Mr Cardinali on Alma Records, Hilario Durán, and his Latin Jazz Big Band beckon us to Cry Me A River, which is more enterprisingly and imaginatively programmed and performed than his first large ensemble recording.
In the playing itself, there is the same familiar mix of insolent virtuosity and refinement that has marked out Mr Durán’s premiere big band outing. Moreover, this time around he has revealed unique musical ideas which have coalesced into his breathtaking ‘composer’s vision’. This, in turn has resulted in outstanding musical scores that are evocative not only of his [Mr Durán’s] cultural topography [which is Cuban] into which is infused the breathtaking harmonic and rhythmic mathematics of jazz. This is a rare gift in a musician, albeit the proliferation of musicians who attempt to “fuse” Afro-Caribbean music with Afro American music.
As an orchestrator, then Mr Durán is non pareil. We may discern this right out of the gates, on Pacá Por Juanito, the composer and pianist’s dedication to the legendary Juanito Márquez, who Mr Durán believes to be one of the greatest Cuban musicians and from the detailed study of whose scores, [Mr Durán] learned “how to arrange for big bands.” Mr Durán uses his nervy fingers to write a song that unfolds in cinematic fashion, as if traversing the Cuban musical soundscape. This he also does with on the following chart – Mambo y Tumbao – a fascinating journey through the music of the greatest of all Cuban innovators – Bebo Valdés and his batanga rhythms and the music of the great Pérez Prado. All of this is told in Mr Durán’s inimitable voice.
Each piece that follow from there on offers fresh delights. Many of these show Mr Durán redefining the extraordinary alchemical reaction between Afro-Cuban music and Afro American jazz. His priority is, of course, to present his musical ideas in a palimpsest that he expresses in the big band format. There is a kind of temperance of his incredibly virtuosic pianism in much of the music, as if the pianist intends to retreat into the shadows so that the arc-lights shine on the music itself, presented by the big band, which comprises a roster of impressive musicians – a full list is provided below – and some of inspired guests: alto saxophonist and incomparable clarinettist Paquito D’Rivera, drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernández, bassists Roberto Occhipinti, Roberto Riverón, the magnificent percussion colourist Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco” and alto saxophonist Luis Déniz.
Every so often Mr Durán’s brilliance on the piano breaks through the canvas of the big band orchestrations. His true musical genius, however, is reserved for composition and orchestration on a symphonic scale. In addition to channeling Cuban musical legends, Mr Durán pays tribute to one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century – Charles Mingus – with a chart simply entitled I Remember Mingus. The rippling African rhythms of jazz are superbly intertwined – just as the music of Mr Mingus himself – into the diaphanous fabric of classical, gospel and jazz.
There is so much more to bedazzle the listener. The most beckoning of these is Cry Me A River, which features one of the most breathtaking pieces of musicianship from violinist and vocalist Elizabeth Rodríguez, who is endlessly brilliant in her expression of the lyric – rendered in an Afro-Cuban idiom as well as in the vernacular of jazz. For the record she does likewise with her violin solo too.
The triumph of this disc is not that it makes you think ‘what wonderful playing’ by a prodigious pianist, but ‘what wonderful, symphonic orchestrations.’ Again and again, you marvel at Mr Durán’s endless inventions in the realm of pianoforte as well as orchestral ideas. And tellingly, Mr Durán ends this recording on a profound note, showcasing his brilliant pianism and orchestrations in a fittingly dramatic finale: Fantasia Impromptu, Mr Durán’s very personal take on the classic work by Frederic Chopin, which also features an eloquent near vocal clarinet solo by Paquito D’Rivera. All of this is beautifully and sensitively captured in the warmth of this recording by the award-winning engineer John “Beetle” Bailey.
Hilario Durán and his Latin Jazz Big Band: Cry Me A River
Music – 1: Pacá por Juanito; 2: Mambo y Tumbao; 3: Claudia; 4: I Remember Mingus; 5: Cry Me A River; 6: Night In Tunisia; 7: Wild Blues; 8: Esperando La Carroza; 9: Fantasia Impromptu.
Musicians – Hilario Durán: piano; Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone and clarinet [3, 4, 6, 9]; Elizabeth Rodriguez: violin and vocals ; OKAN: background vocals ; Evaristo Machado: background vocals ; Roberto Occhipinti: contrabass; Roberto Riverón: contrabass [1, 2, 5]; Marc Rogers: contrabass ; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums; Luis Mario Ochoa: guitar ; Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco”: congas and other percussion; Magdelys Savigne: congas [4, 5]; Alexis Baro: trumpet; Kevin Turcott: trumpet; Alexander Brown: trumpet; Brian Okane: trumpet; Colleen Allen: alto saxophone and flute; Andy Ballantyne: alto saxophone, clarinet and alto flute; Luis Deniz: alto sax [6, 7, 8]; Jeff King: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Kelly Jefferson: tenor saxophone; Pol Coussée: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; Christian Overton: trombone; Karl Silveira: trombone; Bob Somerville: trombone; Peter Hysen: bass trombone.
Released – 2023
Label – Alma Records [ACD90832]
Runtime – 52:31
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