June 2005

Hilario Durán All Star Big Band
June 23, 2005Lula LoungeToronto
Report by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
Hilario Durán and his All Star Big Band made a big splash when they performed for the first time at this year’s Toronto Distillery Jazz Festival. Their second perfomance, at Lula Lounge Thursday night was equally successful. This is a Havana-style big band with a modern sound. The five saxes, four trombones, four trumpets, bass, congas, bongos, drums, timbales, batas and a vocalist are directed by composer/arranger Hilario Durán at the piano. Taking my cue from MC Amanda Martinez, I will not name all the personnel off the top, but please, check the end of the article for the complete list.

The first piece the band plays is a Chucho Valdes composition. Percussion starts alone, then all join in. Luis Denis takes the first solo on the saxophone, ending it with a series of notes rising in pitch. Then Alexis Baro takes it away with the trumpet. Next piano and bongo move into the spotlight as the brass remains silent. A glissando down the keyboard signals the brass back in and the piano falls silent. Briefly, only piano, bass and drums play. The entire band wraps it up and out. Great Cuban jazz, always moving.

The second piece is "Yemaya Olodo", a prayer to the goddess of the sea (Yemaya) in the Yoruba religion. Hilario Durán sets the mood, sensitive and mysterious. His daughter Yailen Durán stands poised and ready to sing at centre stage. Joaquin Hidalgo, eyes closed, stands before the bata drums. Drama grows with the volume of Hilario’s chords and the swirling fingers of his right hand. The voice enters, the piano quakes deep and we are drawn into the whirlpool, sinking into the richness of the sea. A clear strong female voice. An extended trumpet solo. Voice and drums, back and forth. Saxophone solo. We end where we began. Powerful magic.

Next is a Guillermo Baretto hit from the sixties whose title translates as “I’m having a lot of fun”. And we all do.

Joaquin Hidalgo
During the rest of the evening we get to hear a couple of cha cha chas, a medley of rumbas that Chano Pozo played with Dizzy Gillespie in the forties aptly named “Killer Tumbao”; “Caballo Viejo” a tune written by Venezuelan Simon Diaz in which Roberto Occhipinti pushes the strings against the neck of his bass and pressing his palm against them, slides his hand to the head; a steamy mambo; a homage to the legendary family of Cuban bass players from which sprang Orestes and Israel ‘Cachao’ Lopez and a big band version of “New Danzon” played by his trio on his Juno winning CD.

Hilario Durán

A varied menu. Very Cuban. Very jazz. Very Hilario. Hilario can suddenly switch from a percussive Latin piano pattern to a stride style but what is most interesting about him is how seamlessly he can merge various jazz and traditional Cuban styles. Hilario remains true to the spirit of Cuban musical traditions yet moves forward with the evolution of modern melodic, harmonic and rhythmic sound. He can play with great subtlety and with great fire but his dramatic flourishes are always essential to the music and never gratuitous displays of virtuosity.

This kind of mixing engenders a sort of cross-fertilization among the musicians in the band. Alistair Kay’s solo and his musical conversation with fellow trombonist William Carn in “New Danzon” was riveting. Of course, Kay has played a broad range of music, from classical to his many years of big band jazz with the Boss Brass. But this was a new Alistair, or should I say Alistario?

I hope we will continue to hear more from this band. They are a group of top notch experienced musicians and great young talent led by a man with a fertile and fluid musical imagation. Somebody, please record them!
The Band

Rhythm Section:
Piano/Arranger: Hilario Durán
Bass: Roberto Occhipinti
Drums: Mark Kelso
Timbales: Chendy Leon
Congas: Joaquin Hidalgo

Jason Logue, Alex Kaye, Alexis Baró, Brian O'Kane.

Al Kay, William Carn, Russ Little, Gord Meyers.

Tenor Sax: Quinson Nachoff, Jeff King.
Alto Sax: John Johnson (and flute), Luis Denis.
Baritone Sax: Vern Dorge.

Yailen Durán

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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Roger Humbert
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