Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: Italuba

Robert R. Calder

Horacio "el Negro" Hernandez


Label: Pimienta
US Release Date: 2004-04-27
UK Release Date: Available as import

This performance opens with a strangely direct restatement of the idea implied in its title, which jams together "Italy" and "Cuba". The music sets together rhythmic patterns which "interfere" one with the other, producing sudden stops and forward lurches. The effect would be alarming in the progress of a car with an ill-managed non-automatic gearbox, but the crashing of gears and generation of sudden jolts in a Cuban band on-stage can be a very positive thing. Cars don't dance. These four guys do.

"A Night in Torino" is actually "Una Notte in Tunisia" (or Una Noche or A Night). I was almost expecting to hear Dizzy Gillespie with one of those expert and inspired Latin American small groups he assembled behind him on record in later years, playing 1940s tunes like the one I just sort of mentioned. I'm not going to claim that Amik Guerra is a replacement of the irreplaceable, but he's certainly no imitation. He has a nice big dark sound on trumpet or flugelhorn, open or muted, and really you get to hear a lot of what he can do in the brief interludes he's allowed on that title -- between the piano gyrations and rhythmic variations of Ivan Bridon Napoles, and the proliferation of the leader's percussion. A very nice trumpeter, who does get to solo elsewhere -- but there ought to have been a bit more.

On "Puerto Rico" Hernandez does a lot more inspired thumping and thrashing, always to the point, and the tuneful pair of vocal refrains by the band together (they have conventionally attractive voices) really build up the rhythmic complexity even beyond their achievement as first-class instrumentalists. It's amazing that when the startlingly active percussionist leaves off his work of ten men, and simply accompanies, how the swing and internal patterns intensify at a bound -- all from a fairly traditional sort of Cuban vocal quartet interlude.

As well as playing a lot of conventional Cuban dance-band see-sawing piano Napoles makes judicious use of electronic keyboards without in the least showing off or exploring the range of tonalities and the million other things many-fingered clowns do when not so devoted to getting on with making music. There are all the virtues of an authoritative Cuban dance-hall quartet, as well as several to be expected only from the most accomplished professional musicians.

The music is sort of cubistic: when a jazz solo has got going suddenly the music takes off at a different angle. Never the whole jug as one shape, pretty well always another angle, and then another. This might be thought a distracting characteristic, but each time the bit of business which gets truncated is unusually interesting in serious jazz terms. Plenty was left in reserve and unplayed. Clearly the musicians are having a good time getting carried away. It's not always clear what instrument Daniel Martinez Izquierdo is playing, between the "electric bass" and "baby bass" mentioned. Sometimes he seems to be the band's guitarist, other times he suddenly makes a big electronic bass noise, and it's like four dancers suddenly piled into a heap and getting up immediately into other movements. A lot of the time he's just a very good bassist, whatever the stringed box in his hands.

It's great fun, the high-class contemporary jazz giving way to its Latin setting, change of direction following on change of direction. Probably too wary of seeming to have gone on too long, they don't switch to another angle so hastily as to foment dissatisfaction. There is no repetition, but the absence of anything monotonous -- the non-aficionado can complain that some other Cuban jazz CDs consist in a variety of beginnings to always the same performance -- has perhaps one easy explanation. The playing time is short enough to have justified a complaint on a vinyl LP before there were CDs. There's something under 35 minutes of music. Presumably they go on a bit longer on live dates, but they wouldn't then need simply to repeat things for want of inspiration, it does seem clear.

It does make a change not to be complaining that newer technology -- including the easier economics of the CD medium and the even longer playing-times possible -- has yet again allowed or even encouraged players or leaders to go on even when they had nothing to say. The inclusion of emptiness and padding was a complaint when the 12-inch vinyl album came in and replaced the mere four-minute single and then the 10-inch vinyl disc (I have read the complaints; I am not so old as to remember that time). There were also LPs which suffered from both self-indulgent longwindedness and too short a playing time. Nowadays one can find an acceptable forty-five minutes interspersed with vacuities in an hour's playing time, or one wonderful hour-long CD badly marred by being spread among another thin hour on two CDs. Still, I can't believe that we couldn't have had more from this splendid group to make the CD more competitive. The cut-time programming doesn't seem to come at cut price, and these men could obviously have gone on for sufficiently longer -- adding to this CD both range and satisfaction for those who have bought it, and a greater incentive to others to join them. These guys are quality, and of course this discussion's intended addressees include the potentially interested non-specialist, buying widely, to whom not even "El Negro" is a name well known. He doesn't waste anybody's time in this lively set.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.