Hilario Duran and His Latin Jazz Big Band: From The Heart (2006)
One of the premier exponents of Latin jazz, the Cuban-born, Toronto-based pianist extraordinaire Hilario Duran realizes a lifelong dream by making his first big band recording, which came, as the title implies, truly From The Heart. Joined by two other jazz greats from the island, celebrated saxophonist/clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera and drummer Horacio "El Negro Hernandez, Duran's twenty-piece Latin Jazz Big Band swings and bounces all around the leader's rhythmically rich compositions and arrangements.
It would be unfair to categorize this album as a Cuban project, considering the many non-Cuban musicians that grace it, however the band does include a good share of Cuban-born players, like percussionists Joaquin Hidalgo and Rosendo "Chendy Leon, propelling the rhythm section, and trumpeter Alexis Baro, leading the horns. The result is a large dose of some pretty good hip and shoulder-moving Latin grind music. The album features six original charts, including "Paq Man, a burner of a number dedicated to the Grammy Award winning saxophonist D'Rivera, who contributes several blazing clarinet solos, and the pianist is all over the keys.
Kicking off with a salsa/mambo beat, Duran's version of the Chucho Valdes piece "Mambo Influenciado is a head-bopping, raunchy score with a rousing big band orchestration featuring D'Rivera and Duran on power solos. The title cut is a bit more subdued, with less of an obvious Latin-shaded tone, but it does provide space for the leader to play. The band is prominently featured on daughter Yailen Duran's original "Habanera in Spain, with fine section work by the group and notable solos by Alexis Baro (trumpet), Jeff King (tenor), Rob Piltch (guitar) and Duran.
Adding a softer spin to the theme is one of my favorite numbers: the Dione Taylor vocals of the slow Matt Denis piece "Angel Eyes, recorded in Moscow with the Globalis Orchestra strings. Other notable tracks include "T'Dot Cha Cha Cha, the very percussive "Blen Blen Blen, and the breezy "Farewell finale, featuring another D'Rivera alto performance and some piano finesse by Duran.
This album is of particular interest to me, since I happen to share the same cultural background as the pianist. Though I was born in the US, my Cuban roots sprouted again when I heard From The Heart. Duran's blend of traditional big band sounds with hot salsa and creative Latin jazz melodies produces a sensational Latin-style big band experience. Duran does one heck of a job providing exciting charts, arrangements and a stellar performance confirming the praise from the great pianist Chucho Valdes, who called Duran "one of the greatest Stone and Spin Cuban pianists of all times.
Track Listing: Mambo Influenciado; From The Heart; Habanera In Spain; Angel Eyes; PAQ Man; T'Dot Cha Cha Cha; Moon Face Again; Rumba for Chano; Blem Blem Blem; Farewell.
Personnel: Hiario Duran: leader, piano; Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: drums; Roberto Occhipinti: bass; Rob Piltch: guitar; Rosendo "Chendy" Leon: timbales; Joaquin Hidalgo: congas, bongo, guiro; Alexis Baro, Alex Kundakcioglu, Brian Okane, Jason Logue: trumpets; Paquito D'Rivera: Alto and clarinet; John Johnson, Luis Denis, Vern Dorge: alto saxophone; Quinson Nachoff, Jeff King: tenor saxophone; Perry White, Pol Coussee: baritone saxophone; Alister Kay, Phil Gray, William Carn, Colin Murray: trombone; Dione Taylor: vocals.