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Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto is establishing himself as a Young Badass in New York City. He’s got what it takes – great time, burning chops, mastery of jazz and Latin idioms, polyrhythmic creativity and the rare ability to push drumming in new directions. He even writes his own tunes. But he’s got something more important – a keen sense of taste. He knows when to lay back and let the music flow, and when to interject his fiery punctuations and kick his sidemen into higher gears. Prieto and his group heated things up on a Friday evening that was one of the first frigid nights of the winter. The Jazz Gallery has complimentary copies of a major jazz magazine on their refreshment table. The latest issue (with vocalist Jane Monheit on the cover) contained a review of Henry Threadgill’s new releases Everbodys Mouth’s A Book and Up Popped Two Lips on PI Recordings. Curiously, the review neglected to mention Threadgill’s drummer – Dafnis Prieto – who is the star of both recordings. He’s a galvanizing force in Threadgill’s lineups – alternately bashing, playing softly, and most remarkably, stretching and superimposing his progressive drumming all over and around Threadgill’s obtuse, odd-meter compositions. Prieto is making waves in Threadgill’s and other lineups. But he’s also stepping it up as a leader, and the evening was a showcase for his compositions, played by musicians he picked. Prieto sat down behind a minimalist set – the basic 14-, 12-, 14-, 18-inch four-piece with a crash, ride, china and hats – augmented with some Latin effects like woodblocks and cowbells.
His band consisted of Peter Apfelman on b-flat saxophones, Brian Lynch on trumpet and Hans Glawischnig on acoustic bass. Pianist Luis Perdomo was the Latin secret weapon. All the sidemen played strongly on the heads and arrangements and contributed thoughtful and often powerful solos.
Prieto’s drumming is technically precise and he’s aware of his predecessors. He takes the Latin jazz foundation laid down by drummers Ignacio Berroa and Horacio Hernandez and takes it further. He’s a modernist who is redefining the drum set. His playing is about making new contributions on the instrument – applying Latin rhythms and incorporating the muscularity and metaphysical booty-kick that goes along with rock and jazz forms. Undoubtedly, drum freaks in the practice rooms of Berklee, North Texas, and other hardcore music schools will be studying, deconstructing and assimilating the work of this innovator – who is still in his twenties.
Prieto was the unabashed leader – directing the band and signaling solos from behind the set. He’s a master of interchangeable three and four grooves, so the listener really must pay attention to what’s going on. The musicians in the audience were counting and listening, and the “normal” people were just getting off on the rhythmic command of Prieto’s group. The band has the ability to stretch, obscure and superimpose the groove at will. They often employ an elusive “one” – and that’s the point. But whether you hear it with your brain or your booty – the effect is the same.
Two music-heads quizzed Luis Perdomo after the set: “Yo, Man, was that last tune in six, or were you guys playing in four?”
“Well, it was in four,” Perdomo replied. “But it was phrased like it was in six, and you know, we uh, messed with it a little bit.”
A little bit? Yeah, they sure did mess with it. Look for good things from this band in the future, and if you want to see forward-looking drumming that can be simultaneously in-your-face and subtle – check out Dafnis Prieto in any lineup.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.