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Concert Reviews

Janio Abreu y Aire de Concierto featuring Victor Goines: Juntos Otra Vez

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Janio Abreu & Victor Goines

The Cuban island reverberates from dawn to dusk – from sea to sea – with the rhythmic chants of the sacred and secular music at every turn, where rumblings from the bàtá drums and the tumbadora accompany conga and rumba music, and where, equally, colonial-era theatres come alive with music and dance fueled by son and danzón, changüi and guaguancó – music made where Spain and Africa collided, giving the world great percussionists from Chano Pozo to Tata Güines, Carlos “Patato” Valdés, Pancho Quinto, Angá, Changuito and Roberto Vizcaíno to Mauricio Herrera.

Equally Cuba’s musical history has been kept alive by principled conservatoires which continue to turn out generations of brilliant pianists from Ernesto Lecuona and Ignacio Cervantes, Antonio María Romeu and Bebo Valdés to his son, Chucho Valdés, and from Emiliano Salvador and Peruchín to Frank Emilio Flynn and José Maria Vitier to Ernán López-Nussa, Hilario Durán, Alejandro Falcón, Aruán Ortiz, Harold López-Nussa, Dayramir González and beyond, and on occasion, even a guitarist as great as Leo Brower.

Coming as he does from a tradition such as this surely Janio Abreu might seem like a proverbial musical anomaly. Mr Abreu is a musician whose principal instruments comprise an extended family of august woodwinds and reeds – the saxophones and clarinets, to be exact. He plays with a nobility that can only come from technical mastery, born of vaunted learning and rigorous practice, and although his music suggests creation at the confluence of the classical and the popular song-form influenced no doubt by traditional secular forms.

This DVD – Juntos Otra Vez – captures all of this and features Janio Abreu y Aire de Concierto with the special guest Victor Goines, a leading member of the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra. Mr Abreu came to the attention of the great Mr Goines when the Orchestra toured Cuba, performing and recording at Teatro Mella in 2015. After that Mr Abreu was invited to travel to the US, to study and perform with Mr Goines and other musicians. This resulted in an invitation extended to the American woodwinds master, to come to Cuba and play with Mr Abreu – the performance of which was captured in their first DVD, Nuestra Herencia Musical, recorded in January 2018 during the Jazz Plaza International Festival in Havana. One year after, in January 2019, Mr. Goines gets invited again to participate on the project Juntos Otra Vez (Together Again). BisMusic, once again, recorded and produced this concert as part of the special programming for the Jazz Plaza Festival.

The performance bristles with energy that rises to eminence with intense surges as the emotional worlds of Cuban and American Jazz music collide. Both Mr Abreu and Mr Goines – in their original music as well as in performance – inhabit the enduring spirit of their peoples. Each of the musicians – together and separately, in solo and ensemble – take turns to lead the rest of the musicians into private worlds in which dark and light, hope and joy are conveyed through music of striking character. Both musicians evoke dramatic and psychological atmospheres as if the musicians were looking over each other’s shoulder, but each with his singular sense of urgency, rhythm and colour.

This performance peaks several times – once during “No Entiendo Nada” [featuring Mr Abreu on bass clarinet], again on “Mori”, a vibrantly thunderous work that celebrates Cuba’s African music heritage. It is a solo flight for Mr Abreu, who plays tenor saxophone here, facilitating a percussion call-and-response between drummer Hugo Cruz and conguero Raúl Rizo, and once again on “Twilight”, a magnificently tender and evocative danzón written by Mr Goines and featuring him playing B-flat clarinet. The other highlight is the playing of the young pianist Rodrigo García, who interprets Mr Goines piece with filigreed brilliance and uncommon delicacy.

The performance also features two other pianists: the ever-brilliant Alejandro Falcón and the inimitable Carlos Alberto Gaitán. The contrabassist Omar González contributes mightily to the wall of rhythm. Meanwhile the young alto saxophonist Sergio Jiménez, and tenor saxophonist and eminence gris Bernard Scabela appear on Mr Goines ebullient tribute to Cuba, “Habana”, a song where each of the woodwinds players solo before the pianist Mr Gaitán brings the piece home with a scintillating solo. Once again BisMusic has outdone themselves with a superbly photographed film, also capturing the sound of this performance with great warmth and detail.

Track list – 1: Danzón mi Bella Habana; 2: No Entiendo Nada; 3: Mambo de Concierto; 4: Chivas Cha; 5: Mori; 6: Twilight; 7: Me voy pa’ Guantánamo; 8: Habana

Personnel – Janio Abreu Morcate: clarinet [1, 4], B-flat clarinet [7], bass clarinet [2], alto saxophone [3] and tenor saxophone [5, 8]; Victor Goines: B-flat clarinet [1, 6], tenor saxophone [3] and soprano saxophone [4, 8]; Alejandro Falcón: piano [2, 3, 5, 7]; Carlos Alberto Gaitán: piano [1, 4, 8]; Rodrigo García: piano [6]; Omar González Sánchez: contrabass; Hugo Cruz Machado: drums; Raúl Rizo Flores: congas, cajón 7] and percussion; Sergio Jiménez: alto saxophone [8]; Bernard Scabela: tenor saxophone [8].

Released – 2020
Label – BisMusic [DVD 1261]
Runtime – 1:06:20

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Concert Reviews

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

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On Thursday, October 13, 2022, representing two generations of Cuban Piano Masters, Hilario Durán and David Virelles got together at Koerner Hall, one of the most magnificent concert venues in Toronto. They were celebrating the release (in Canada) of their new recording Front Street Duets (Alma Records), a project they started working on at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto
Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Both artists were extremely happy of releasing their duet album after these past two years of the unimaginable worldwide health crisis. They were also excited to be in Toronto, and for being able to accommodate their busy schedules to perform their music in front of a very enthusiastic audience. Durán and Virelles expressed their utmost respect and admiration for each other. David from an early age considered Hilario as one of his musical heroes, a musical giant and influential figure in Cuba, in Canada and abroad. Hilario considers David as one of the most important Cuban pianist of his generation, a big star shining globally, from the highly competitive musical scene in New York.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The concert got started started with Epistrophy, the first tune copyrighted by Thelonious Monk, followed by Sophisticated Lady / In A Sentimental Mood, two compositions by Duke Ellington. Next, Durán and Virelles performed four tunes from their new album: 1. Danza Lucumí, (beautifully arranged by Virelles), a song written by Alejandro García Caturla, a Cuban composer who together with Amadeo Roldán, are considered the leaders of Afro-cubanismo, a nationalist musical trend that incorporates Afro-Cuban songs, rhythms, and dances. 2. Challenge, a new composition by Durán. 3. La Malanga (also arranged by Virelles), a composition by Calixto Varona, one of the most important composers from Santiago de Cuba from the XIX century. 4. Guajira For Two Pianos, the first track on the album Front Street Duet, a fiery composition written by Durán.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The first set came to an end with Airegin (an anadrome of Nigeria), a jazz standard composed by American saxophonist Sonny Rollins in 1954.

The second part of the concert started with a solo performance by David Virelles, Canción Estudio, composed by José Antonio “Ñico” Rojas, a prominent Cuban composer and guitarist, considered as one of the founders of the style of Cuban song called filin. Then it was Durán’s turn for an inspired solo performance of Autumn Nocturne (a notable composition written by Russian-born Josef Myrow with Kim Gannon). Durán had previously recorded this tune on his 1999 Justin Time Records release Habana Nocturna, a superb album that feature acclaimed saxophonist, flautist and bandleader Jane Bunnett, and drummer extraordinaire Horacio “El Negro” Hernández.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Next, both pianists performed a set of four pieces written by Hilario Durán for the recording Front Street Duets. 1. David’s Tumbao, a composition dedicated to David Virelles. Durán is well known for his fiery tumbao style when he’s playing. 2. Punto Cubano #1, inspired on the genre of Cuban music known as punto guajiro or punto cubano, a poetic art with music that became popular in the western and central regions of Cuba in the 17th century and consolidated as a genre in the 18th century. 3. Santos Suárez’s Memories pays tribute to the Havana neighbourhood where Durán grew up, where he fell in love with the piano and became a musician. It brings back cherished memories involving his upbringing, his family and close friends. 4. Milonga For Cuba, a very special tribute dedicated to the people who protested in Havana last summer 2021.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

For the encore, Durán and Virelles interpreted a wonderful rendition of Body And Soul, a popular song and jazz standard written in 1930 with music by Johnny Green and lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton. Body and Soul is the track that closes the album Front Street Duets, and also brought to an end a tremendous musical night at Koerner Hall in Toronto.

Photographs by Danilo Navas

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