By: Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs
Sometimes when you hear the first strains drifting off of a recording, you know, right away, that you are about to enjoy some spectacular and emotional music. That’s what I felt immediately when I began to listen to Oscar Hernandez’s album. The smooth saxophone of Justo Almario spread wings and flew improvisationally above the melody of “Otro Nivel” and Gilbert Castellanos, who I met many years ago in San Diego, California sounded explosive and creative on his trumpet. Then, enter Oscar Hernandez on piano, letting his fingers dance above the rich percussion of Christian Moraga and Jimmy Branly. He gives both percussive musicians an opportunity to shine on their drum solos. Always present, Oskar Cartaya is the bassist who holds this ensemble tightly together with solid strength, like the basement that supports the house. This is a group proffering spicy Latin music, red hot rhythms, luscious melodies and the blending of individually talented musicians. They become a super stew of music as delicious as Ropa Vieja. The title tune, “Love the Moment” should be a creed for us all to follow. It’s beautifully written by Oscar Hernandez, along with nine other amazing compositions. Dayren Santamaria is exquisite on track #4, “Danzon for Lisa,” Adding violin adjoins a new dimension to the music, along with Justo Almario’s sensitive flute.
You may be more familiar with Oscar Hernandez as the leader of a three-time Grammy winning all-star salsa band. This is a step away from that orchestrated sound to a more intimate presentation. Still, this seven-musician ensemble has a full and captivating sound that explores every nuance of the Hernandez compositions. Oscar Hernandez has a career that stretches back to the 1970’s. He has worked with Latin greats like Celia Cruz, Ismael Miranda, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Conjunto Libre, Grupo Folkorico, as well as Ray Barreto and Ruben Blades. He was once Musical Director for Ray Barreto and Ruben Blades and also for the iconic Paul Simon. Not to mention, he was the orchestrator and arranger for Gloria Estefan. Known popularly for his formation of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a 13-piece all-star salsa big band. This Orchestra toots proudly their 3x GRAMMY awards and celebrates their 16-year existence. Look for their 7th release to bless our ears in 2020.
Every song on this album of fine music is well-written and memorable. Hernandez is an outstanding composer/arranger. This music easily demonstrates why this pianist and band leader is one of the most important voices in Latin music today.