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Dafnis Prieto: Cross-Cultural Mix

Angelo Leonardi By

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Dafnis Prieto is one of the leading drummers and composers of his generation. Forty-four years old and Cuban born, Prieto moved to New York City in 1999. The early 2000's found Prieto employed as a sideman by several prominent musicians, including Eddie Palmieri, Michel Camilo, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Dave Samuels and Arturo O'Farrill. In the following years Prieto also appeared in some avant-garde settings with Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman. The young Cuban drummer transposes elements from his Afro-Cuban musical heritage onto a jazz drum kit. During the 2000's he composed and arranged his first album, leading a quintet with Brian Lynch, Peter Apfelbaum and others (About the Monks, ZOHO 2005). After six recordings as a leader, Prieto is close to releasing the Dafnis Prieto Big Band's debut album, Back to the Sunset and Kairos Sextet's Transition, leading his new band.

All About Jazz: Let's start from your latest ambitious project, the big band album, Back to the Sunset, which will be released in April. How did the idea of a big band project come about?

Dafnis Prieto: I have always loved the big band sound. When I was about eleven years old I heard a big band from Santa Clara, my hometown in Cuba, and I got impressed and overwhelmed by that sound. About a year ago, I had a conversation with Eric Oberstein about what to do next, and we agreed on doing a big band album with all my music and arrangements. I had previously written music for big bands, but at that moment I started getting more curious about going deeper into preparing a full album. My previous albums featured quartets, quintets, sextets, and this was a very exciting opportunity for me to develop my music in a big band setting.

AAJ: Back to the Sunset is a masterful piece of work, a perfect combination of Cuban music and contemporary jazz. What's the best audience for this music?

DP: I think anyone with some sort of sensitivity towards sound can be driven by the music. I don't target my music to any specific audience. This music can be played either in a jazz club or in a theater, or concert hall. This album carries many emotional qualities. One minute you can be dancing and the next you might be crying, or singing a catchy beautiful melody. To me the genre is not as important as the persons behind it, the musicians who create the music.

AAJ: You composed and arranged nine tunes for the album, honoring your musical heroes and mentors. Can you describe the reason for your choices?

DP: Indeed, I wanted to honor some of my musical heroes. Some of them I've had the opportunity to work with, like Eddie Palmieri, Brian Lynch, Steve Coleman, Michel Camilo, and Henry Threadgill, and others whom I didn't have the opportunity to work with, like Mario Bauza, Tito Puente, Hermeto Pascoal, Buddy Rich, and others. They have all been an inspirational force to me, one way or another, directly or indirectly. Therefore, I wanted to honor them big, with a big band.

AAJ: With this project you continue the long tradition of drummers who lead big bands. How do you approach leading a big band from the drum throne?

DP: I've been leading different side bands for over fifteen years. I see the big band as an extension of all of these years of experience. Leading this big band has been a very uplifting and unique experience, I've been having a great time playing the music. It sounds tight, powerful, and also very versatile when it comes to dynamics, and textures.

AAJ: The Dafnis Prieto Big Band made its world premiere in August 2017 at New York's Jazz Standard, days after recording the album in Brooklyn, joined by special guests Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman and Brian Lynch. How did you go about writing the pieces that featured them?

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