Horatio "El Negro" Hernandez has been busy drumming from the second day of his arrival in the United States in 1993. On that day, he joined Paquito D’Rivera in recording Forty Years Of Cuban Jam Sessions
on the Messidor label. Since then, Hernandez has been, it seems, discographically ubiquitous, appearing on a growing series of diverse albums that involve extraordinary drumming in the Cuban traditions: albums, some award-winning, by McCoy Tyner, Joanne Brackeen, Bill Frisell, Chucho Valdés, Henry Threadgill, John Patitucci, Roy Hargrove and Michel Camilo. Hernandez’ growth culminated in a highly promoted tour with Carlos Santana, elevating his profile even further, particularly as a drummer involved not only in Cuban musical forms, but also as one whose interests involve combining electronics with Latin music, creating a fusion-like blend, much as has the leader of the first group of note that Hernandez joined in Cuba, Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s Proyecto. So astounding were Proyecto’s recordings that American record producers had to circumvent American foreign trade regulations to release them in the U.S.
Well, now Hernandez is
in the U.S., as is Rubalcaba. But Hernandez hadn’t recorded his own album. Until now.Italuba
recalls Hernandez’ three years in Italy after he defected from Cuba and the generosity of the Italian people in welcoming him into its jazz community. (Interestingly, Valery Ponomarev said the same thing when his first stop after defecting from Russia was Italy.) When Hernandez was on tour in Italy, he teamed with other Cuban-born musicians there to record the CD, and Italuba,
combining the names and spirit of those two countries, was created.
The first track, "Free Latin," consisting of Hernandez’ pun that summarizes his political status and the tune’s slipperiness of meter, starts out as a drummer’s piece. Hernandez sets up the rhythm, minimalistic, on wood block and accented by cymbal, then adding hi-hat, snare and cowbell before the unfolding of elaboration upon that rhythm when pianist Ivan Bridon Napoles enters with shimmers and prods and bassist Daniel Martinez Izquierdo pops strings with bubbling assertiveness. After some spare trumpet work, the intent of the piece is revealed: a showcase for Hernandez’ drumwork before the clavé-driven ending over repetitive chords.
Trumpeter Amik Guerra makes a stronger contribution on the next track, "Puerto Rico," with its complex, twisting lines that he jumps right into before, yes, the meter changes to slow down for vocals. Throughout the remainder of the tune, meters shift seamlessly, keeping the listener’s close attention. "Danzón For You," while referring to the traditional Cuban dance form, consists of changing rhythms in a consistent whole, as suggestions of tango lead into a livelier mambo section.
In tribute to two of the most influential jazz trumpeters of the latter half of the twentieth century, "90 Miles To Miles," referring of course to the distance between Cuba and the United States, combines Guerra’s muted buzz, Milesean in origin, with intimations of the fusion of Davis’ later work. Then there’s "A Night In Torino," alluding to the piece identified with Dizzy Gillespie, ever a champion of Latin music, as well as the Italian city where Hernandez’ recording took place. Arranged in 7/4 as the rest at the end of each two-measure phrase is shortened by a beat, "A Night In Torino" at first proceeds as if it were a chachachá until it breaks open in double time at the bridge, only to decelerate into the main theme again. So, even as the personalities of the trumpeters are honored, the personalities of the Cuban-born musicians adapting their music become parts of the reworked arrangements as well.
After a decade of elevating the levels of excitement of the various groups he played in, Horatio "El Negro" Hernandez finally is breaking out on his own, and he chose the location of one of the most life-changing events of his forty years to do it.