Back to the Sunset, the new album by the Dafnis Prieto Big Band opens with "Una Vez Mas," a fairly traditional Latin big band workout. Don't let that fool youthis is not your padre's Latin jazz album. Half way through the decidedly more mysterioso second track, "The Sooner the Better," it's amply apparent that Prieto is willing to explore by-ways ignored by genre traditionalists. The result is a challenging album that requires attentive listening if its pleasures are to be unlocked.
Prieto is a hummingbird-heart drummer, whose flexible and technically-accomplished playing packs more information into a bar than many percussionists cram into a chorus. In his small-group outings as a leader, big doses of his tightly-wound playing can be a bit exhausting. Here, with a large pallet of tonal colors at his disposal, and the built-in assumption that a Latin jazz big band outing will include heaps of percussion, a more successful balance is struck between Prieto's detail-oriented and energetic playing and the musical activity of the rest of the group.
Prieto features his own playing frequently, though not overbearingly, and his band is filled with top-tier players and soloists. He also composed and arranged every song on the album, which provides a real showcase for his talents in these areas. Several of the pieces on the album are tributes to mentors and inspirations, and there are memorable appearances from three guest-artists. Bryan Lynch blows nicely on the opener and Steve Coleman makes a distinctive appearance on "Song for Chico," while the oddest cameo comes from Henry Threadgill on the title track "Back to the Sunset" (Prieto played on Threadgill's 2001 Pi Recordings album Everybody's Mouth's a Book). While Coleman adapts his methodology to the Latin context, Threadgill just blows Threadgill over Prieto's arrangement, with a throaty, almost querulous tone and note-choices honoring a higher power than traditional harmony. The solo doesn't necessarily fit, but it certainly signifies Prieto's boundary-pushing agenda with this music.
The album comes to a fantastic conclusion with "The Triumphant Journey." It's the most forceful and memorable of Prieto's compositions, but the whole seventy-five minutes are compelling. Definitely a recording to consider if you're willing to mix progressive and challenging elements with your Latin jazz.
Una Vez; The Sooner the Better; Out of the Bone; Back to the Sunset; Danzonish Potpourri; Song for
Chico; Prelude Para Rosa; Two for One; The Triumphant Journey.
Mike Rodríguez: Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Nathan Eklund: Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Alex Sipiagin: Trumpet,
Flugelhorn; Josh Deutsch: Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Román Filiú: Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Clarinet;
Michael Thomas: Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Piccolo; Peter Apfelbaum: Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax,
Melodica; Joel Frahm: Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax; Chris Cheek: Bari Sax; Tim Albright: Trombone; Alan
Ferber: Trombone; Jacob Garchik: Trombone; Jeff Nelson: Bass Trombone; Manuel Valera: Piano;
Ricky Rodríguez: Acoustic & Electric Bass; Roberto Quintero: Congas, Bongos, Percussion; Dafnis
Prieto: Drums & Music Director; Brian Lynch: Trumpet (Track 1); Henry Threadgill: Alto Sax (Track
4); Steve Coleman: Alto Sax (Track 6).
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