Love & Friendship
The Great Songbooks are a common refuge of mediocre artists. For starters, the repertoire is on their side. Now comes the hard part. How to make it shine, in light of immorrtal readings that have preceded them. Here's where many fall flat on their face. You can make your own list. No need to get personal.
Happily, this is not the case of Cuban Rhapsody. Hilario Durán and Jane Bunnett's celebration of the music they love best. First, they are both classically trained and capable of performing the full gamut of Cuban Music, from Cervantes to Vitier. They are also accomplished, self-assured jazz musicians, content to play within the traditional strictures of tonic and dominant in Cuban music, bringing (rather than forcin) their jazz sensibilities where they add to our enjoyment. This is jazz in its broadest sense, a question of attitude and intent rather than harmony and improvisation per se.
However you listen to it, Cuban Rhapsody is one joyous occasion, merrily bracketed by Matamoros standards. Hilario and Jane's take on the danzón "Almendra" includes a tribute to Cachao with a quote from his classic "Chanchullo". Hilario improves on his own "New Danzón" with a more condensed, focused cover than his 2004 trio reading, this time building to an ostinato that feels downright ancestral. Jane gives equal time to her soprano sax and flute, choosing unerringly between one and the other, letting the music itself decide. It is the unforced, leisurely pace of this outing that makes it so winsome.
Judging by Cuban Rhapsody, cross-cultural fertilization between Cuba and North America did not come to an abrupt halt half-a-century ago.
As individuals, Hilario and Jane could not be more different. listening to the self-effacing Hilario requires concentration: I never heard him raise his voice above a whisper. Where he's concerned, the expressiveness is entirely in the music. Jane is quite the opposite. She bursts into a room like a natural phenomenon, spreading sunshine all over the place. Over the years, the melancholy I've gotten from Jane has come, usually by way of music. If theirs were a mystery novel instead of a music album, we'd be sorting out The Case of the Disparate Soulmates.
But opposites do attract, also in music. After many memorable joint outings, live and on record, Hilario and Jane have hit one oout of the park. Here's the aleph, where everything comes together. Listen carefully. Here's the love story of a CUban pianist for the music of the country he left behind. The story of a Canadian reedmeister who redefines herself in Havana. The story of the music that binds them together. Cuban music, Latin Jazz. Timeless. One for the ages. A million-to-one-shot. An instant classic.
*Nat Chediak is a three-time Grammy winning and three-time Latin Grammy winning music producer. He is the author of the first book published about Latin Jazz, Diccionario de jazz latino (SGAE, 1998).