Although the brilliant, virtuoso pianist Hilario Durán might be heard in a recording studio warming up by playing a Bach Partita or one of Charlie Parker’s devilishly complex bebop pieces at breakneck speed, it is the music of Cuba that permeates his compositions. But it is because of the very fact that he is made in the image and likeness of those two grandmasters of music that he has been nicknamed ‘con tumbao’ a term that has become the title of this album, one recorded recently in the Cuba that he left behind to come to Canada many years ago. Contumbao is thus, an album deeply personal to Mr Durán, who returns to Havana’s EGREM Studios and to two of his bandmates who once made up Perspectiva, the new (1990’s) incarnation of a Grammy-Award-winning band that once played behind Arturo Sandoval before it came to be called by that name. Contumbao also marks the first time since 2005 that members of that legendary band have recorded together.
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The music of Hilario Durán has become a supreme means of romantic self-expression, but whereas his great contemporary Chucho Valdés used the piano to create almost heroic self-portraits and vast panoramas, Hilario Durán is more of a sublime introvert and a miniaturist, infusing conventional forms such as the Bolero and the Danzón with an intimacy and an emotional intensity that can only be described as ‘the poetry of feeling’. This pervades all of the glorious music on Contumbao and while Hilario Durán puts an emphasis on long unbroken lines in the right hand his left hand backs them up with devastatingly intense bass lines – heard to great effect in, for instance, the especially poetic slow movements of “Guajira 2016”. What marks them out as uniquely his own is the way Mr Durán decorates a simple phrase not as ornament for ornament’s sake but as the expression of deeply felt emotion. “Duo Influenciado” towards the end of the disc captures all of this in an exquisite duo performance with Chucho Valdés, incidentally one of Mr Durán’s greatest admirers, as it also draws an invisible line between the styles of the respective grandmasters.
Structure and thematic development are also among the list of powerful technical attributes of the music of Hilario Durán. Two pieces here that display this aspect of the pianist’s work are “Contumbao” and “Segundo Encuentro”. Added to those attributes of the works is also a sense of the epic (especially in the latter piece), as well as the intensely lyrical melodicism which comes with a huge sweep of shifting moods. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the disc, on “Danzón Farewell (Danzón de la Partida)”, to be precise, its sombre main theme is followed by a slow(er) rippling figuration in the right hand. Hilario Durán’s playing stresses on the disc also the restlessness of his fertile imagination nowhere more dramatically than on “Pilón Influenciado”, which harks unto Chucho Valdés’ piece of a similar name, but which is played much faster than that other piece and develops a sense restless urgency and which he (Mr Durán) imbues with a grandeur by use of his brilliant range and control of dynamics.
A considerable part of the excitement of listening to Contumbao is discovering the transcendental aesthetic that binds Hilario Durán and his old bandmates, “Chicoy” and Jorge Reyes, and his old collaborators, “El Negro” and “Changuito”. But in his flawless playing he also produces all the necessary encouragement for relatively newer colleagues such as “Papiosco”, Roberto Riverón and Brenda Navarrete, a brilliant exponent of the ritual bàtá drums as well as a vocalist of unbridled power. The fact that Hilario Durán is able to forge a bond with musicians with such imperious ease is something that bodes exceedingly well for the future of this pianist genius who can, in the blink of an eye, transform technical pianistic challenges into music of real depth and feeling, while at the same time exploring the boundaries of the technically possible and the harmonically acceptable.
Track List: 1: Contumbao; 2: Guajira 2016; 3: Pilón Influenciado; 4: Recuerdos; 5: Papiosco’s Match; 6: El Tahonero; 7: Los Muñecos; 8: Parque 527; 9: Segundo Encuentro; 10: Duo Influenciado (feat. Chucho Valdés); 11: Rumba de Cajón (leke-leke); 12: Danzón Farewell (Danzón de la Partida).
Personnel: Hilario Durán: piano; Jorge Luis Valdés “Chicoy”: guitar; Jorge Reyes: bass; Roberto Riveron: bass; Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez: drums; Jorge Luís Torres “Papiosco”: congas; Pancho Amat: tres (2); Jorge Luis Quintana “Changuito”: timbales; Brenda Navarette: batá and vocals (4); Rumberos De Cuba: vocals and percussion (6, 11); Chucho Valdés: piano (10).
Label: Alma Records