Nighttown Features Cuban Sounds
Cleveland enjoyed a sample of authentic Cuban trio music last week at Nighttown, one of the few remaining successful jazz clubs in the Cleveland area. On Thursday night, Cuban pianist Hilario Duran gave the club a two-set whirl with bassist Roberto Occhipinti and world-renowned drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez.
The dimly lit club was packed with hardly any standing room left. Duran’s furious chops were enough to impress anybody many times over, but he never strayed far from his traditional Cuban feel. Even in a familiar jazz tune like “Hot House,” the group made sure to interject Afro-Cuban based arrangements and sections to give the song an extra kick.
The group performed a wide variety of music consisting of standard jazz repertoire, traditional Cuban songs and several originals by Duran. Despite some obvious sight-reading by Hernandez, the originals were well played with lively and upbeat attitudes. Hernandez had to place several of Duran’s arrangements on his floor tom, but he displayed absolute professionalism through his high level of musicality.
Hernandez, known for his flawless technique and speed, did not sound overly flamboyant at all; he instead proved himself a true sideman, supporting the band and improving the overall sound. He performed fewer solos than expected, but the ones he did hammer out were surprisingly musical and full of flowing Cuban rhythms.
Bassist and Toronto native Occhipinti used a monster of a double bass with a rich sound that could have filled a room five times Nighttown’s size. The solid foundation he provided seemed to be just what Duran and Hernandez were looking for in order to float their ideas in and around the music.
Seeing Hernandez as he passed through Cleveland was a rare treat considering his schedule, which is one of the busiest in music entertainment today.
Hernandez has a past filled with struggle, including an upbringing in communist Cuba with serious limitations and denials of entry into the United States. However, Hernandez’s serious musical background landed him opportunities wherever he went, including gig offers from heavyweights such as Paquito D’Rivera, Michel Camilo and Gary Bartz, visiting professor of jazz saxophone at Oberlin.
When asked why he played drums, it was no surprise that Hernandez replied, with a laugh and a smile, “Because it’s all I know how to do!”
He directed his warm personality especially towards the table of Oberlin students who watched intently with Assistant Professor of Jazz Percussion Billy Hart. This was not wholly unexpected, though, as Hart is a personal friend of Hernandez’s.
Some expressed doubt afterwards about Duran’s piano playing, whose ornaments and flourishes may have landed him a reputation for playing too much within a given piece.
“He played so much that he didn’t really play anything at all,” said sophomore bassist Chris Mees.
Such is the dilemma for musicians and listeners everywhere: where should the line be drawn between musicality and technique? Perhaps that line will always be too subjective to define, but it will never stop musicians from bringing audiences many nights of escape from their hardships and misfortunes.