Pianist Oscar Hernandez played the Blue Whale last nite…the joint’s first ever Latin anything show. This one was pure Latin jazz with a helluva band, including a righteously fired up Justo Almario on tenor and bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, who has the coolest hair this side of Esperanza Spalding. Good crowd, loud and drinking and taking up every seat, a few danced in the back, and the response was ecstatic. Not a lot of Latin jazz in LA between summers. People were jonesin’ for some. Hernandez poured it on. amazing virtuosity, I mean the cat can play a mean piano, aggressive runs and crazy fingered dances all across the keyboard…piano both melodic and powerfully percussive…the drummer and conguero got caught up in it and wailed, laying out crazy latin polyrhythms that Hernandez would plunge through. That is when he wasn’t all grace, Justo and he doing the danzon thing, very old style Cuba, all ballrooms and ladies in white chiffon dresses. Then back into a rumba, the drums laying out that montuno rhythm from way back in the forest there where the slave drivers can’t reach, that ancient african sound at the heart of Cuban music. That’s a wild sound, an alien sound, we have nothing like it here in the States, something so unadulteratedly African. But when the congas begin you can feel the whole room tense up in anticipation, waiting for Hernandez to unleash it on piano, that driving, staccato piano line that means were in for several minutes of serious business. It was too…descargas, Cachao style, heavy Cuban jam sessions, players taking turns with burning solos, and Carlitos right there in the middle, laying down one helluva mean bass line. Me and the whole room were digging every second of it, every note, and it’s a shame it had to end but it was a Thursday and Friday morning beckoned early, sleepy mornings at work hearing Oscar Hernandez’s piano still in our heads. Latin jazz done right is soooo good, that mix of virtuosity and jazz skills that doesn’t lose the fundamentally Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythm and vibe that pumps it forward. Oscar Hernandez could write a book on that. Maybe he has.