Hilario Durán - piano
Jane Bunnett - flute and soprano saxophone
Marie Bérard - violin
Larry Cramer - trumpet
Steve Dann - viola
David Heatherington - cello
Horacio "El Negro" Hernández - batá drum and
Hugh Marsh - violin
Roberto Occhipinti - acoustic bass
Rodolfo Valdés Terry - congas
1. U.M.M.G. - Upper Manhattan Medical Group - 6:08
2. Autumn Nocturne - 4:54
3. Drume Negrita - 8:04
4. Harlem Nocturne - 8:28
5. Esto Sí Tiene Que Ver (You Must See This) - 6:31
6. Moonface (Habana Nocturna) - 8:02
7. Lada 78 - 8:43
8. Song For Argentina - 9:52
9. Like Someone I Love - 7:03
What becomes a legend most? Since the beginning of the Golden Age of Cuban
music in the thirties, people the world over have been enthralled by the
music and musicians emanating from that tiny speck of an island in the Antilles.
First, it was the son montuno and its practitioners, from Miguel Matamoros
to Ignacio Piñeira. In Antonio Machin's voice, Moisés Simon's
"The Peanut Vendor" takes New York by storm. The rumba follows
in close pursuit, finding its way into the top big bands of the era. Its
ambassadors are Cuban émigrés like Mario Bauzá, who
makes a name for himself as musical director for Chick Webb and Cab Calloway.
In the forties, Bauzá joins brother-in-law Machito in a big band
- the Afro Cubans - that cuts across the tangled Manhattan ethnic divide.
By the end of the decade, the Latin dance turf is shared with two Titos,
Puente and Rodríguez, both of Puerto Rican heritage. With the able
assistance of percussionist and showman extraordinaire Chano Pozo, Dizzy
Gillespie brings jazz into the mix. Cubop is born. Chico O'Farrill starts
writing Afro-Cuban jazz.
The scene shifts to Mexico in the fifties, where pianist/bandleader Pérez
Prado launches his brassy, sexy mambo amidst a bevy of foxy rumberas. Back
in Havana, producers both Cuban (Ramón Sabat) and American (Norman
Granz) record tasty jam sessions with Julio Gutierrez, Peruchín,
Cachao, José Fajardo, and Bebo (father of Chucho) Valdés.
Singer Beny Moré brings the son to maturity with his gifted improvisations
in a big band context. He succeeds in eclipsing most everyone in his wake.
Moré's reign is far-reaching, if short-lived. He passes away in 1963,
taking the glory days of the Big Band Era with him. Salsa becomes the sound
of Latin Manhattan in the mid-sixties. Whereas in Havana, Armando Romeu
succeeds in establishing the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, breeding
ground of first-rate soloists like Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval.
The two of them, led by another OCMM alumnus, Chucho Valdés, will
rewrite the course of Latin Jazz in the seventies with their fusion ensemble,
Buoyed by the success of Irakere, other Romeu disciples go it alone. Juan
Pablo Torres updates traditional Cuban music with Algo Nuevo. Hilario Durán
attempts a fusion of his own, less rooted in the Afro-Cuban polyrhythms
of Irakere. In "Los De Siempre", Durán seeks to expand
the harmonic range of Cuban music. His avowed musical references - Peruchín
(Cuba's answer to Monk) and Chick Corea - hail from both sides of the Atlantic.
However Irakere casts a very long shadow, leaving no room at the top.
Shortly after D'Rivera's defection to the U.S. in 1980, Sandoval decides
it's time to branch out on his own. He makes Durán an offer he can't
refuse. The Havana-born pianist will spend the eighties as the trumpet virtuoso's
pianist and musical director. A position of such visibility can be a springboard
to a successful solo career. But Sandoval's band is not a collaborative
affair. Durán and company are there to frame (and keep up with) the
trumpeter, not to stand out on their own. In 1985, at the Havana Jazz Festival,
Gillespie takes twenty-something pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba under his wing.
Meanwhile, another keyboard wizard, Emiliano Salvador, will spend the last
years of his brief life in perfect anonymity.
It is only after Sandoval follows D'Rivera's steps to the U.S. in 1990,
that Durán sets out to form another band of his own, Perspectiva,
with remaining bandmates and others. It's still a fusion group, but one
that is synthesizer-heavy, closer to popular music than to jazz. Havana
at the beginning of the nineties is hardly the place to look for cutting-edge
pop. Los Van Van and NG La Banda have seen better days. Durán and
Perspectiva languish until Jane Bunnett arrives on the island to record
her first landmark session of Afro-Cuban folkloric music and jazz, "Spirits
of Havana". It's the first of seven albums Bunnett and Durán
will make together in the nineties.
Durán turns forty-two, days after recording his first solo outing,
the minimalist gem "Francisco's Song" (1995), where jazz meets
Cuban music with the piano as the only percussion instrument. A splendid
calling card, it wins him a following among the initiated. "Killer
Tumbao", recorded almost two years later, is a loose Havana jam session
with Canadian pals (Jane Bunnett, Larry Cramer, Roberto Occhipinti) mixing
amiably with Cuban all-stars, young and old.
"Habana Nocturna" showcases Durán's talent as an arranger.
The band is a jazz ensemble with a string quartet that provides the orchestral
shadings and on three occasions actually becomes a charanga (the Cuban traditional
string and flute formation). It's a classy, trans-cultural proposition.
"Upper Manhattan Medical Group" becomes a guaracha, "Like
Someone In Love" a danzón, "Autumn Nocturne" is recast
in ritmo macuta, a Cuban cousin of Brazil's baiao and Puerto Rico's bomba.
The legendary cradle song "Drume Negrita" seamlessly shifts locales
from Havana to Harlem, while "Harlem Nocturne" makes it a fun-filled,
round-trip excursion. Durán's own "Moon Face (Habana Nocturna)"
goes through three tempo changes, from 6x8 afro to reggae and finally to
straight-ahead. It's a mini lesson in (acoustic) jazz fusion of the highest
Not every tune is a hybrid. Durán's "Esto Si Tiene Que Ver"
is as classic a danzón as they come. Bunnett's "Song From Argentina"
is one of the loveliest jazz ballads of the nineties.
The elegance of the writing is anything but conservative. Listen to "Lada
78", a barnburner dedicated to the Russian car he inherited from Sandoval.
Ladas are notorious clunkers, but in Cuba, a set of wheels is worth its
weight in gold. Who would have thought the man had a madcap sense of humor?
As featured guest, Bunnett continues to develop along parallel lines. On
flute, her Cuban phrasing is on the money: her timing belongs to jazz. On
soprano, she summons from a timeless melody its fullest expression, a reminder
that jazz is more than improvisation. When she and Durán join forces,
it's a relay conversation among best friends: one begins where the other
leaves off, gaining eloquence and intensity as they challenge one another
and swing merrily along. Their musical partnership is one of the most rewarding
in Latin jazz since Claudio Roditi locked horns with D'Rivera in the mid-eighties.
Rounding out the ensemble, Larry Cramer brings a touch of Miles Davis to
"Drume Negrita" and draws lovely circles around Bunnett in "Song
For Argentina". El Negro displays his versatility riding the cymbals
gracefully or doing cascara (keeping time on the side of the snare or timbal)
like the Old Masters. On bass Roberto Occhipinti steps out in "Drume"
and "Song". Second violin Hugh Marsh solos wisely on "Lada
78" and "Like Someone". On congas, Rodolfo Terry is a very
At heart, Durán is a classisist. Every tune has its own intro, a
nod to Erroll Garner, one of his father's favorites. Durán Sr. (he's
also Hilario) was a rising star of the filin movement that brought Cuban
song closer to Nat King Cole and the Great American Ballad. Durán
Jr. is said to be an introvert, but you wouldn't know it from his playing,
which is in the grand Cuban tradition, but informed by an arsenal of fresh
and witty, well-developed ideas. In "Autumn Nocturne", he quotes
from "Stormy Weather", Ravel's "Bolero" and "Salt
Peanuts" in a single, seamless phrase. Baden Powell's "Canto de
Ossanha" finds its way from Brazil to "Song From Argentina".
Elsewhere, Durán will tag for good measure.
Apparently, introspection also gives way to euphoria. The pianist/arranger/composer
has found a second home in Toronto with wife and daughter Yailen (who does
all three voices in the chorus of "Esto Si Tiene Que Ver"). If
the music is any indication, he is one very happy camper who won't let the
good times go. "Lada 78" comes to a natural close not once but
twice, only to keep going. The album fades out as Durán rides his
tireless montuno into the sunset. "Like Someone I Love", indeed.
Habana Nocturna's roots in Cuban music are Guillermo Rubalcaba's Charanga
Típica de Concierto and the trailblazing danzones composed by Cachao
and Macho López for Arcaño y sus Maravillas. In jazz, Gonzalo
Rubalcaba paid tribute to his father's music in "Mi gran pasión"
(1987). But Durán's "Nocturna" is a round-trip ticket from
Cuban music to jazz and back: a landmark album of Cuban Jazz in the nineties.
As the genre approaches the new millennium, Rubalcaba has successfully crossed
over to the mainstream. About the only thing that Chucho Valdés won't
do is take a break. The late bloomer comes of age: Durán won't be
denied any longer. His Habana may be Nocturna, but it shines brightly with
a light of its own.
Chediak (author of "Diccionario de Jazz Latino" - SGAE, 1998)
song | killer tumbao | habana
nocturna | havana
danzon | encuentro en la habana | from the heart | motion | cuban rhapsody
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