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Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: Visión



Pianist, composer Oscar Hernández

Over the years Oscar Hernández has been the flag bearer, not simply of the music of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra but of the very sound of El Barrio. His spritely and elegant music characterised by lyrical melodies, formed by a jigsaw of themes and harmonies, propelled into parabolic curves and towering arcs by zesty and often impetuous rhythms seem to capture not just night skies reflecting evenings redolent of glittering marquees of shimmering lights. But what serves him best of all is his full-bodied tone which, together with a delicate pianism, locks in the music’s poignancy.

Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: Visión
Album cover – Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: Visión

Every once and a while Mr Hernández sets off on a solo sojourn, handpicking his travelling crew to keep on truckin’ into unexplored territory. His 2022 expedition – no doubt the product of pent-up creativity hampered by over two years of pandemic lockdown – appears to be rooted in a change of musical and emotional perspective. Not surprisingly the recording is entitled Visión.

But the real revelation is the depth of emotion that is contained in the music – no doubt a product of coming face-to-face with vulnerability, human frailty and the impermanence of life. This is central to “Visión” and may be heard particularly in the danzón dedicated to his mother: “Doña Provi”, a song with a fluttering melody held aloft by the lightness of her spirit embodied in the flute solo by Justo Almario and in Mr Hernandez’s own piano solo that follows.

It is the vivacity of life, however, that is reflected in Mr Hernandez’s high-spirited homage to Chick Corea: “Chick Forever”. The quiet dynamism of the song is propelled by the hopping solo on the tenor saxophone by Mr Almario, which features dazzling arpeggios and glimmering, moist glissandos. A short burst of the piano that follows breaks up the song so that the mighty rumbling bass of Oskar Cartaya and rattle and hum of the drums played with lively colour by Jimmy Branly together with percussion by Christian Moraga run dramatically opposed to the elegant and steamy trumpet by Aaron Janik.

Luisito Quintero brings a rolling thunder of the congas to “Make the Move”. Joe Locke is another inspired guest and stars in the misty radiance of “Virtually Here”, which – as the title suggests – seems to be back-lit from another dimension. Mr Hernández and Mr Locke play in beautiful  gamboling contrapuntal lines occasionally joined in by Mr Almario’s flute and Mr Janik’s restless trumpet soli.

Through it all Mr Hernández’s piano is at the heart of the emotional epicentre of this music, forever underlining the harmonic canvas and the rhythmic palette this music by dictating the very flow of this music that makes its radiant way, propelled by Mr Hernández’s hyperactive right hand that glides; then punches and crackles in triads and sparkling loping, single note lines. This is Oscar Hernández at the height of  his musicality.

Track list – 1: Visión; 2: Ritmo pa’ Ti; 3: Doña Provi; 4: Chick Forever; 5: Make the Move; 6: Tributo al Son; 7: Don’t Stop Now; 8: Spring; 9: So Believe It; 10: Virtually Here

PersonnelOscar Hernández: piano; Justo Almario: tenor saxophone and flute; Oskar Cartaya: bass; Jimmy Branly: drums; Christian Moraga: congas and percussion. Special Guests – Aaron Janik: trumpet [1, 2, 4, 5, 8]; Joe Locke: vibraphone [8]; Luisito Quintero: timbales [1], congas [5] and bongos [6]

Released – 2022
Label – Ovation Records [OV-04-OH]
Runtime – 52:28

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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