On the evening of Saturday, February 9, 2019, Cuban-Canadian piano master Hilario Durán and his Latin Jazz Big Band returned to Koerner Hall in Toronto. This band features some of the best jazz and Afro Cuban jazz players in our city, most of them are leaders of their own musical projects. As a very special guest was featured Horacio “El Negro” Hernández, who is regarded as one of the most talented drummers in the world. Horacio has been a longtime friend and musical collaborator who has participated in many of Hilario’s projects and recordings.
The evening got started with a pre-concert talk at 7 pm, followed by the first part of the concert at 8 pm. The opening theme was aptly entitled “Opening”, followed by “Angélica”, a composition by the late Emiliano Salvador, a highly regarded pianist and composer, one of the most influential Cuban artists of his generation. “Rumba y Tumbao” paid tribute to Pérez Prado and Bebo Valdés, two giants of Cuban music of all times. A lush arrangement showcased rumba, cha cha and bembé abakuá rhythms. Next, Hilario Durán introduced the audience to the pacá rhythm of Juanito Márquez, a guitarist and arranger who was very popular in the sixties in Havana. According to Durán the pacá rhythm was very close to mambo. The theme “Farewell” followed. “Tema de Bebo”, another composition by Chucho Valdés dedicated to his father was beautifully arranged for big band for this special concert. The first part of the show came to an end with “Misa Negra”, one of the classics of Irakere’s repertoire. Maestro Durán wrote a superb arrangement a few years back for a special piano duet concert in Cologne, Germany, with Chucho Valdés, accompanied by the greatest WDR Big Band. In Toronto, Durán had some special guests on this performance: Elizabeth Rodríguez (violin and vocals), Marta Elena (vocals), Yosvani Castañeda (vocals), Sarita Leyva and Iré Omó Afro-Cuban Dance Ensemble.
Right after the intermission, Hilario Durán was presented with the Louis Applebaum Composers Award, which was established at the Ontario Arts Foundation in 1998 by Louis Applebaum to recognize excellence in music composition. This year’s $15,000 award recognizes excellence in a body of work by an artist in the field of jazz.
The second part of the concert got started with a riveting version of Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me A River” on the fabulous vocals of Elizabeth Rodríguez, seguing into the rumba classic “Llora como lloré”, dancers graciously included, courtesy of Sarita Leyva and her dance troup. Next, Elizabeth Rodríguez (violin and vocals) was again showcased on the timeless bolero “Delirio” (César Portillo de la Luz). Right after, Marta Elena paid tribute to la Guarachera de Oriente, the immortal Celia Cruz, with el pregón “El Yerberito Moderno”. The programme shifted to rumba with “El Tahonero” and “Rumba de cajón (leke-leke)”. Both tracks from the album Contumbao. The night came to an end on a high note with the open rumba “Blem Blem Blem”, previously recorded by Durán. A long standing ovation honoured a true master musician, Hilario Durán, “Gloria de Cuba” (Glory of Cuba), and of Canada as well.