Giovanni Hidalgo: In The Tradition

In The Tradition presents Giovanni Hidalgo explaining the basic conga sounds, tuning and typical conga, timbales, bongo and guiro parts for Son Montuno, Bolero, Charanga and Danzon. The emphasis is on thinking like a team, with relaxation and control. The tape concludes with a rousing finale, “Rumba Jam,” featuring special guest Changuito along with pianist Eric Figueroa, drummer John Almendra, bassist Eddie “Guagua” Rivera, Richard Gant on trumpet and tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart’s standout solo in a mode for Joe Henderson.

Acting as interviewer on Evolution of the Tumbadoras, Hidalgo says he owes his style to combining the drum rudiments with technique exercises shown to him by Quintana (Changuito) upon their meeting back in 1978. Fourteen years earlier, Changuito was practicing technique eight hours a day, developing his own “secret hand movements” and listening to Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Tony Williams. As the title implies, there is much history here, and Changuito is the world’s richest walking repository of Afro-Cuban rhythmic knowledge: e.g., an old trick to avoid over-calloused hands involved urinating on them, washing only after they’d thoroughly dried (note: this is for serious pros, kids, don’t try this at home!).

After 25+ years with Los Van Van, Changuito is justifiably regarded as the “Father of Songo” and interviewer/pianist Rebeca Mauleon-Santana prompts him to display his groundbreaking approach to both the traditional “Salsa” kit and standard drumset in The History of Songo. P.-I.-P. cutouts show how the clave, right foot on bass drum, and tumbadoras intersect, and each “movement” is repeated in slo-mo. Changuito demonstrates his patterns on tunes such as “Merensongo,” “Songo Medley” (joined by Hidalgo at about the one hour mark) and the highlight “Songomania,” again with Rivera on bass along with Angel “Papo” Vazquez on trombone. All three tapes provide a mix of subtitles and translation (occasionally both), boundless enthusiasm, deep understanding of the folkloric elements, respect for the past masters of this music and a sense of warm tranquility.