This album by the late pianist Paquito Hechavarría, Frankly was recorded in 2007 and released in 2009. Although it has been in circulation for just six years, it is a classic already. The reason is simple. It features sublime performances of quintessential songs by one of the most iconic pianists that the world of music almost never knew. Paquito Hechavarría was born Feb. 21, 1939. He studied in the Music Conservatory of La Habana. His burgeoning career in Cuba featured performances with the Riverside Orchestra, Conjunto Casino and Los Armónicos of Felipe Dulzaides. A late arrival in Miami—in 1962—Mr. Hechavarría played in the dance halls of the Fontainebleau Hotel’s Boom Boom Room and several other venues. He recorded his first American album with an old friend, the percussionist Nelson “Flaco” Padrón two years later and just a year after that he recorded his first album of American Standards. His best known gig may have been with the Fly Out Band with whom he played the theme of the famous TV series “¿Qué pasa USA?” As the 90’s rolled in he made Piano a solo recording with the vocalist Rey Ruiz. And then he returned to the American Songbook with Frankly.
This album is a seemingly never ending panoply of music. Mr. Hechavarría plays with laconic brilliance and remarkable tumbao. His fingers are nimble and appear to be almost playful. However, more than a dazzling show of technical wizardry, this remarkable performance speaks to a musical intellect that tells a truth about real art and passion. At a deeper level, Paquito Hechavarría appears to inhabit not just the music but the fantastic stories that are told by the invisible lyrics you never hear on this record. His androgynous style shows him to play characters that like the great balletic hero Nijinsky are both male and female. His melodies and harmonies conjure images of the yin-yang nature of man—and woman—and he seems to caress the keys of the piano, rather than play them. His lines startle with idiomatic phrases that hint at his Cuban heritage in most subtle ways. And yet they also suggest a Western manner that is passionate and symphonic.
The repertoire here might have sounded like an overdose of Americanism. But as if by magic, Paquito Hechavarría makes this a fiction by playing each chart as if it were a singular monument in a landscape that traverses Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood. Songs such as “I Love Paris” are updated to the 21st Century with a sense of realism that is rare among performances of such fare. Mr. Hechavarría’s keen sense of drama brings a track like “Witchcraft” to life with astounding melismas that no pianist has used before. You get a sense that here is a pianist who not only embodies the very heart of the music that is quintessentially American and of a slightly different era, with a youthfulness that goes beyond the musical personality of an artist in his seventies. Forever young, Paquito Hechavarría has made a truly enduring record; one that is not simply alluring, but also one that has become a classic in a very short time.
Track List: Change Partners; Sweet Lorraine; Oh You Crazy Moon; I’ve Got The World On A String; Love Is A Many Splendored Thing; Just In Time; The Lady Is A Tramp; L Love Paris; All Of Me; Witchcraft; Fly Me To The Moon; I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter.
Personnel: Paquito Hechavarría: piano; Andy Gonzalez: acoustic bass; Dafnis Prieto: drums; Pedro Martinez: congas, percussion and chorus; Phil Woods: alto saxophone (4, 7, 11); Brian Lynch: trumpet (2, 6, 9); Ileana Santamaria: chorus (8).
Label: Calle 54 Records
Release date: September 2009
Buy music on: amazon
About Paquito Hechavarría: A teenage wonder who played with Conjunto Casino, Orquesta Riverside, and other celebrated bands in Fifties Havana, he was hired as a house musician at the Fontainebleau when he came to Miami in the early Sixties. During the hotel’s heyday, he accompanied Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and a host of other American entertainers in the famed Boom Boom Room. He left Miami to play Caesars Palace and later returned. In the mid-Eighties, he formed Grupo Wal-Pa-Ta-Ca with bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez and percussionists Walfredo de los Reyes and Tany Gil. (The group’s name was formed from the first syllable of each member’s name.) The foursome recorded several Latin jam sessions in Miami well before Andy Garcia “discovered” mambo innovator Cachao. (In the wake of Cachao’s Grammy-winning comeback, the Wal-Pa-Ta-Ca descargas, with songs composed by Hechavarria, have been reissued on CD by Tania Records.)