Drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez arrived in New York from his native Cuba (via Italy) and slipped into the percussion driver's seat on recordings by pianists Michael Camilo and Chucho Valdes, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and guitar legend Carlos Santana, helping those artists snag a bunch of Grammy Awards. Italuba ""the title a melding of the names of his native land and that of the country that welcomed him on his initial expatriation""marks his overdue debut as a leader.
The set brims with a percussive gusto full of classic Afro-Cuban rhythms, with a muscular heft to the sound. On so many of the drummer-led efforts out there, picking the leader is no easy chore. It's obvious here. "El Negro's" drumming is, if not out front, cetainly a full and equal and joyously assertive partner in this quartet sound. His approach is similar to some of Tony Williams' early '90's solo discs with trumpeter Wallace Roney"" Neptune (Blue Note, '92) and Nature Heart, (Blue Note, '90), with dense, aggressive, hard-driving rhythms throughout, leaned here heavily toward the Latin side.
The disc sounds quite traditionally Latin, though the exuberance is cranked up a notch with electric bass and El Negro's muscular approach.
On "90 Miles to Miles" the band has that 1980s Miles Davis fusion thing down pat, featuring a whomping bass/drum fusion sound, with trumpeter Amik Guerra, muted, sizzling like a mad hornet in a Mason jar, stinging into the pounding beat with precision; while "A Night in Torino (Tunisia)" gives the Dizzy Gillespie classic a succinct new twist; while the opener, "Free Latin," explores some Latin-tinged free improvisation.
El Negro's debut has been a long time coming, but the wait was worth it for this energetic modern Latin sound.