HILARIO DURAN LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Monday (November 7). $22-$25. 416-595-0404 ext 245, www.jazz.fm Rating: NNNNN
It's easy to picture pianist/composer/producer Hilario Durán in a headache remedy ad. There'd be lots of shots rapidly crosscut: Durán, with his hands over his ears, while one of the music classes he taught at Humber in the late 90s clatters away; Durán working up a sweat after hours of rehearsal with his big band (with whom he'll perform at the Phoenix Monday); Durán in a hot studio in Havana, Cuba, in February of this year - after not recording in Cuba for almost a decade - energetically composing Encuentro En La Habana, his new album (out November 15), on a tight deadline. The last shot would be a quiet contrast: Durán back home in Toronto, leaning over his piano holding a pencil (his 2005 Juno for best contemporary jazz album, New Danzón, gleaming just out of focus on a shelf in the background), calmly composing an intimate sonata.
The camera pans over to reveal the Tylenol beside the sheet music. Then cut to Durán, who says something like "In my line of work, I can't let a headache slow me down."
As Durán admits over the horn from his place, given his tireless schedule and the fact that he's trying to compose and arrange for an 18-piece band of "the cream of Toronto musicians" (take that, Broken Social Scene!), not to mention the added pressure of living up to an award-winning reputation (from us even - we named him best Latin musician last week), well, yes, perhaps there is some headache-inducing anxiety in his life.
But living under the weight of the name Durán's built since the 80s with his own solo albums, various band and film projects, festivals and international tours, and being part of saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett's Spirits of Havana Afro-Cuban band has only made him work harder.
"Everybody's watching you, so you've got to give your best. And they're always criticizing at some point," he says slowly, struggling to convey his meaning in English. "So I always have to be in the best form. In every concert. In the best form and the best way prepared at any time.
"But," he says with a hint of the romantic, all the stress "disappears when you start playing the first note."
And Durán enjoys the risk of uncertainty. Despite being widely acclaimed in 2002 for his exceptional traditional Cuban album, Havana Remembered, it was really with his adventurous New Danzón that he came into his own. He's been credited with taking danzón, Cuba's virtuosic formal, ballroom-influenced music to incredible new heights.
"Yes, I try to do this always," he agrees nonchalantly.
By mixing elements of bebop, modern jazz and Cuban sounds, Durán managed to build on the usually very structured musical style. Does he consider himself an experimentalist?
"Sort of, but really when I'm composing I'm not trying to invent a new thing. I just get impressions from things I hear, and I put it on the paper, you know?"
The contents of that paper have piqued the interest of jazz fans here. When Durán's November 7 Latin orchestra show quickly sold out at the Mod Club Theatre, the show's organizers at Jazz FM changed the venue to the Phoenix to accommodate more people. And that's just fine with Durán.
"The biggest reward is the audience," he affirms. "It's the best reward and the most satisfying part of being an artist - more than the money!"