After 17 years, Hilario Durán has fulfilled a long-held dream to record another album with a big band.
The Cuban-Canadian pianist and composer leads a 19-piece ensemble on Cry Me a River, his first big band recording since 2006’s From the Heart.
A mix of originals and existing material, the nine works on the recording stem from the Grammy-nominated and Juno-winning artist’s Afro-Caribbean cultural topography, but they also showcase his gifts for bending tradition and infusing his arrangements with improvisation.
Durán joined us on Café Latino to tell us more about it.
This is your first big band album in almost 17 years.
Finally. I love big band music and I love working with a big band.
What is it that you love so much about arranging for big band?
I used to hear big bands back in Cuba when I was a child. There were a lot of orchestras that used to play on the radio and on TV. I grew up listening to this music. It wasn’t until I got the opportunity to join the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna in 1976 … that I got to get more into this style of music. I had the opportunity to work with some of the great musical directors and arrangers in Cuba at that time.
Almost 17 years later, how is the experience different from when you did it in 2006?
It is totally different. I could have more musicians, and most of these charts I had played before. I had the opportunity to workshop this in Germany with the WDR Big Band. I was looking to record it finally, and I didn’t have that opportunity until now.
How many members are in your big band?
Five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, myself playing piano, bass, drums and two percussionists. I also have [Paquito D’Rivera, Horacio “El Negro” Hernández, and OKAN] as guests. I always admired them, so to join me in this project is very wonderful.
I really like “Wild Blues.” Tell us a little bit about that one.
I wrote this song a few years back. I always was fascinated with the big-band sound, mostly the saxophones. I really love to write [for them]. There was a project in the ’70s called Supersax, and I really loved that. I heard a lot of recordings of that project, and I wanted to do something really hard for the saxophones.
You were originally going to release this as a double album with last year’s Front Street Duets with David Virelles. I understand that it was too difficult to do that during the pandemic.
We had to wait … and it was actually better, because this was really difficult for me to make. The album with David Virelles, we made in two days, but it was still very intense. I think that to make this at the same time would have been very hard for me to do it. In the end, I think it was better to make them at two different times. And I’m very satisfied with the result.
This interview has been edited and condensed.