While the tango is the heartbeat of Argentina’s bustling capital city, Buenos Aires, 600 miles to the north in Santiago del Estero the characteristic rhythm is chacarera, a 6/8 folkloric rural counterpoint to the cosmopolitan tango. Between the two cultural centers lies Cordoba, hometown of bassist-composer Fernando Huergo. A longtime resident of Boston and currently a Professor at Berklee College of Music, Huergo grew up listening to Argentine tango and folklore, along with American jazz. He represents all of those seemingly disparate elements from his own musical makeup on Hashtag.
“It’s kind of a combination of who I am,” he says of his seventh recording as a leader and debut for ZOHO Music. “I’m from Argentina, I love the music from there, is in my blood. I love Astor Piazzolla and I love folklore music, but I also love Duke, Monk, Mingus and Benny Golson and all the jazz greats. So I tried to combine those things and create something hopefully interesting.”
What Huergo has created on Hashtag is a collection of powerfully compelling tunes that incorporate folkloric traditions, courtesy of Franco Pinna’s deep understanding of Argentinean musical styles and Yulia Musayelyan’s stellar flute work, along with modernist flourishes from Leo Genovese’s Fender Rhodes electric piano, Rick DiMuzio’s urgent blowing on tenor sax and the leader’s impeccable electric bass lines.
“I’m very lucky to be playing with these guys for a while now,” says Huergo of his bandmates. “They’re such heavy players. Yulia, who is from Moscow, is amazing. I love her sound. It’s the color of the folkloric music that was missing before when I just had a tenor in the band. Yulia is very deep into Latin music and she has a great talent for improvising melodies. Rick is just one of my favorite tenor players anywhere, beautiful sound and lines, a true Boston legend. Leo’s contribution is wonderful not only for his own harmonic world that he brings to the music but for his knowledge of the traditions and his fresh approach to them.” Huergo prominently features Musayelyan and DiMuzio on the intricate unison and harmony lines that characterize his writing throughout Hashtag, like on the surging title, which opens the collection with a bang.
“I love the sound of those two instruments together and those guys have such a blend. I really enjoy the intonation and the warm sound that they get.” Pinna’s crisp, rapid-fire, drum ‘n’ bass-inspired work on the kit fuels this bristling opener while Genovese supplies a crackling Rhodes solo. Huergo also exhibits tremendous facility, uncanny articulation and remarkable lyricism in his solo on this energized number. He cites Jaco Pastorius as a major influence on his approach to the electric bass guitar. “He’s like Trane, Bird, or Herbie,” says Fernando. “If you’re a modern player, you can’t avoid the guy. I think there are very few musicians who had an impact like Jaco did on the bass. He changed the whole spectrum.”
A folkloric aspect comes into play strongly on the driving Trunca which is underscored by Pinna’s infectious chacarera groove. “Franco is from Tucuman in the north of Argentina, an area very rich in folkloric traditions,” explains Huergo. “He has mastered all those rhythms and adapted them to the drum set in a very unique and personal way.” This dynamic offering also showcases Musayelyan’s brilliant flute playing and has DiMuzio stretching heroically on a robust tenor solo.
The beautiful ballad Cerca has Pinna switching to brushes and fellow Argentine Genovese playing gentle piano. “Cerca means ‘close,’ and it’s dedicated to my kids,” explains the composer. DiMuzio delivers a dusky tenor solo and Musayelyan follows with a luminous flute solo. Genovese’s delicate touch and sparse approach on his piano solo here is simply sublime.
Their audacious interpretation of Evidence deftly melds chacarera into the fabric of that Monk staple. Pinna’s provides precision fills around those signature staccato stops while Genovese unleashes an irreverent piano solo that is in keeping with the spirit of Monk while traveling to some other orbit entirely. Huergo joins in with another expertly executed bass solo before giving way to some turbulent trading of eights between Genovese, DiMuzio and drummer Pinna. “Monk is one of my favorite composers,” says Huergo, a longtime member of Guillermo Klein’s Los Gauchos orchestra. “I think Monk is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. His music is just so incredible and some of it sounds like it was written in clave. And when you put his music to a chacarera beat, it sounds like he is from the north of Argentina because it works so well.”
Troesma incorporates tango rhythms and flourishes while featuring Musayelyan and DiMuzio in some beautiful counterpoint exchanges on the main theme. The tune is dedicated to Fernando’s late uncle, who was affectionately known as Troesma (an anagram for Maestro). “He was the president of the tango society in my city, a real lover of tango. He knew so much about the music. A great singer and philosopher of life, he was a wonderful man.”
Falling is another modern number that showcases Huergo’s rich harmonic palette as a composer. “That has an intro in 5/4 and then it goes into a light chacarera,” he explains. “To me, it has a kind of Strayhorn vibe.” Genovese’s adventurous piano solo here certainly elevates the proceedings.
Fernando delivers a brilliant solo bass intro on a rendition of Wayne Shorter’s hauntingly beautiful, hymn-like Infant Eyes that has him alternately chording and playing single note lines. The full band enters near the 1-minute mark and the piece is gently underscored by Pinna’s suggestion of a vidala rhythm on the kit.
Says Huergo of the buoyant Weather, “It’s my little homage to a band that really meant so much to me, Weather Report.” Once again, Pinna employs the chacarera groove while DiMuzio blows over the top in robust tones. Fernando solos brilliantly and Genovese kicks in a killer Rhodes solo near the end of this contemporary anthem. The restful Afternoon At The Gallery, a zamba rhythm from the folkloric Argentinean traditions, carries a chamber-jazz feel in the rich harmonies between flute and tenor sax. Musayelyan’s lovely flute solo here brings an ethereal quality to the piece while Huergo follows with another low-end gem of a solo.
Chacarera underscores a rhythmically-charged interpretation of Mongo Santamaria’s Afro Blue, a song famously and frequently covered by John Coltrane. “It opens with the Afro-Cuban 12/8, then it goes into the chacarera 6/8 on the bridge, and in the solo it can go both ways,” explains Huergo. Genovese turns in a probing solo on the Fender Rhodes while DiMuzio digs deep on tenor and Musayelyan soars on flute.
Astor is Huergo’s heartfelt homage to Astor Piazzolla, the prolific Argentine composer who revolutionized the tango while being reviled by traditionalists in his own country. “Piazzolla loved the controversy,” says Fernando. “It gave him a lot of attention. He was a very savvy guy. Even in my own family my relatives would say, ‘That’s not tango!’ Piazzolla was one of the greatest Argentinian musicians and a huge inspiration to me.” Huergo and his accomplished crew tackle this nuevo tango with requisite passion and chops.
The collection closes on an upbeat note with Huergo’s chacarera-fueled interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group). Tenorman DiMuzio blows over the undulating grove with fierce conviction while Genovese turns in a dazzling piano solo to put an exclamation point on this superb session.
“I love Strayhorn, I also love Monk and Gershwin, and el Cuchi Leguizamón, Yupanqui, Hermeto, Gardel, Troilo, without even getting to the classical composers...so much music,” says the bassist-composer. “I play and listen to all kinds of music so I think in the end, everything that I have heard gets mixed into my music in some weird way.” Weird and wonderful.
-- Bill Milkowski
Produced by: Fernando Huergo. Recorded at Studio B at Berklee College of Music in Boston, on May 23rd and 24th, 2014. Recording Engineer: Alex Rodríguez. Mixed by: Mark Wessel. Mastering Engineer: Dave Darlington
Studio Photography by Anastasia Sierra. Cover photo by Maria Sych. Art direction and package design by: Al Gold. Executive Producer: Joachim "Jochen" Becker.