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Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: Italuba Big Band

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Horacio El Negro Hernández

Of all the Afro-Cuban musicians playing the “conventional” [if you could at all call it that] North American – or “Jazz” – drum sets there is no one more dazzling to watch and listen to than Horacio “El Negro” Hernández. He can play at extraordinary speeds with both hands, never losing control of pulse or time, he seems to have wrists – not lubricated by but – made of liquid and his hand-eye-foot co-ordination is diabolically brilliant. This miraculous dexterity enables him to morph from montuno to swing, mix things up with machine-gun-like “bebop” rhythms as well as odd metres… and best of all he can make it all sound perfect and exactly where it belongs – all in the space of a fine or six minute song.  

This is the kind of jaw-dropping display of drumming and percussion colouring you will see throughout the two discs featuring the Italuba Big Band, produced by the remarkable Cuban music imprint, BisMusic. Through this stunning performance “El Negro” also manages to make the drum skins heat up to near explosive temperatures, while he makes the brass of his assortment of cymbals sizzle and hiss, and he makes all of this “sing” with the marvellous members of the Big Band. It is a big band, of course, because of the smart, well-oiled reeds, winds and brass section of the Jazz Band of Joaquín Betancourt – a full complement of 13 players who join “El Negro” on this project.

The drummer’s Italuba band also includes the great percussionist father and son duo, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot and Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., pianist Iván Bridón Nápoles, trumpeter/flugelhorn player Amik Guerra Lig’Long, bassist Dany Noel, together with a masterful Héctor Quintana on guitar. In addition, this performance by the Italuba Big Band also features very special guests – two magnificent Cuban saxophonists: César López and Carlos Miyares, as well as the inimitable trombonist Eduardo Sandoval, and memorable powerhouse vocals of Robertón and Mandy Cantero with the ever-seductive Haila María Monpié.

With “El Negro” commanding proceedings from his drum chair and Joaquín Betancourt at the helm of affairs [of] the rest of the ensemble, the Italuba Big Band pull off this perfect repertoire showing off their mastery of music redolent of soaring melodies, luscious harmonies, and dynamic, meteoric rhythms that dive in and out of the traditional and the contemporary. There is a magnificent balance of composition and invention throughout. Soli are brief, meaningful and always make elegant musical statements and soloists ascend in soaring parabolas and loops above the melodies before returning the music to its original themes. Music such as “Pati Metal” and Divertimento” are dense in orchestration, and you made ever- aware of the textural strands that make the music unique.

Meanwhile, speaking of the “unique”, it should not be lost on all of us, especially as we have been starved of live music [Cuban music in particular] for almost a year and a half. So what better way than to enjoy a live performance vicariously than on this double-DVD of what is easily one of the most memorable performances of that year – and to do so not only by “listening” to the music, but experiencing it as if it were “live” on DVD? As a production as well, this is a dizzying [sometimes a little too dizzying] production with 13 cameras, including the Go-Pro cameras now-ubiquitous on sound-stages worldwide. The jump-cuts may make things feel a little rushed at times, but nevertheless it is still an enormously rewarding musical experience.

Track list – DVD One – 1: Last Minute; 2: Puerto Rico; 3: 90 Miles to Miles; 4: Pati Metal; 5: Mr. Track list – DVD Two – 1: Te Prima; 2: Divertimento; 3: Deseo; 4: Tropical Madrid; 5: Free Latin.

Personnel – Italuba Big Band – Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums; Dany Noel [Daniel Martínez Izquierdo]: bass; Iván Bridón Nápoles: piano and keyboard; Amik Guerra Lig’Long: trumpet and flugelhorn. Special Guests – Héctor Quintana: electric guitar; Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: timbales and percussion; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and batá; Haila María Monpié, Robertón and Mandy Cantero: vocals [DVD One 2]; César López: alto saxophone [DVD One – 3 and DVD Two 4] and flute {DVD Two 5]; Eduardo Sandoval: trombone [DVD One 2 and DVD Two 2]; Carlos Miyares: tenor saxophone [DVD One 2 and DVD Two 3, 5]. Joaquín Betancourt’s Jazz Band – Woodwinds – Israel Figueredo: tenor saxophone; Emil Santacruz: tenor saxophone; Sergio Antonio Jiménez: alto saxophone; César Filín: alto saxophone and soprano saxophone; Jorge Sergio Ramírez: baritone saxophone. Brass – Arturo Bas, Hansel Woo, Dany and Yaingel Bacallao: trombones; Jesús Ricardo do Andrés Seoane: lead trumpet; Alberto Mésa, Silvano Roberto Hernan and Kevin Peñalver: trumpets.

Released – 2019
Label – BisMusic [DVD 1167]
Runtime – DVD One 30:27 DVD Two 34:15

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