The album Front Street Duets played by the great Hilario Durán and his one-time acolyte, David Virelles is a sublime recording. It is one that only Mr Durán could have conceived of. Why? It is not impossible to perceive that, more and more [certainly after the earth-shatteringly divisive pandemic] Mr Durán has turned himself inward, into a secret – and sacred – space, into which artists often withdraw. Equally, it is not so shocking to find that when he opened the proverbial door into that space, he would admit a musician of the fulsome abilities – literally 360° all-round kind of musicianship – that characterises a former acolyte, Mr Virelles – formerly speaking only because Mr Virelles has grown his own pair of sinewy eagle wings to become a high-flier in his own right – holding court with the likes of Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill, Andrew Cyrille, Ravi Coltrane…
A piano duet recording of this high calibre is not without precedence. One has only to think of the two legendary [!] recordings – both duets performed by Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. What characterised those recordings were the long, sculpted inventions of both pianists that had audiences held in suspended animation somewhere between gasping for breath and experiencing what cardiologists would surely diagnose as cardiac arrhythmia [one at Montreux comes easily to mind]. I should know as I am held exactly so every time I listen to those recordings.
But the virtuosity of these two pianists is of a very different kind. There is no bending of phrases; elongating the choicest one that formed the melodic heart of each piece – and it was always announced as if by a flesh-biting arrow that pierced the senses and propelled the music of Mr Corea and Mr Hancock. Mr Durán’s virtuosity comes from an imaginary interior landscape [of his mind], somewhere between Baroque and Bebop. Thus he usually cannot be restrained from decorative imagery that adorns his narratives [“Santos Suarez’s Memories” is a fine example of this]. But no matter how he adorns he never loses the “heart” of the melody, its emotional epicentre and harmonics and rhythms that propels the music after that climax is reached.
Mr Virelles is one of the greatest young apostles of Afro-Cuban musical tradition, but he has always known that the inner dynamic of tradition is always to innovate, rather than be imprisoned by its structures. And so by actively pursuing this thesis he has managed to throw overboard melodic, structural, harmonic, and [because this is Afro-Cuban music we are talking about] rhythmic hooks that expressively blunted the music through overuse. And so Mr Virelles’ special kind of virtuosity will manifest itself as he builds from what might – or might not – be left of melody, harmony and rhythm inside Afro-Cuban music.
The unique virtuosity informs his arrangements [pursued by both pianists] but especially in Mr Virelles’ playing on Alejandro García Caturla’s composition “Danza Lucumí” and Calixto Varona’s “La Malanga”. Both songs unveil not only the differences in the voices of both Mr Virelles, but also in the magic manner in which Mr Durán presents his interpretation of the works. And this speaks to the kind of magic that separates this piano duet recording from every other one you may have heard – including those legendary ones by Mr Corea and Mr Hancock.
As an important sidenote: It should not go unnoticed that everytime Mr Durán has decided to put his music down on tape, Peter Cardinali [the Alma Records supremo] and John “Beetle” Bailey have always been there to capture it in all its sublime glory. The fact that this time it includes Mr Virelles too, suggests that nothing like this is likely to happen in a long time to come.
Tracks – 1: Guajira for Two Pianos; 2: Challenge; 3: Punto Cubano #1; 4: Danza Lucumí; 5: La Malanga; 6: Milonga for Cuba [Dedicated to 7/11]; 7: Santos Suarez’s Memories; 8: David’s Tumbao; 9: Body and Soul
Musicians – Hilario Durán and David Virelles: pianos
Released – 2022
Label – Alma Records [ACD10132]
Runtime – 41:27