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Dominican Jazz from Summit Records: The Dominican Jazz Project & Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra

Mark Sullivan By

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There must be something in the air, as the Dominican Republic suddenly finds representation on two latin jazz releases from Summit Records. The Dominican Jazz Project grew out of pianist Stephen Anderson's visit to the 2014 Jazzomania Jazz Festival in Santo Domingo. After an additional visit—and additional new musical friendships—the group agreed to record together. So it is essentially a small cooperative group, although about half of the compositions are Anderson's.

Composer Socrates Garcia leads a big band and is also responsible for arrangements and conducting. Garcia is a native of the Dominican Republic, but is currently Director of Musical Technology at the University of Northern Colorado (certainly not the first place I'd think of as a center of Dominican jazz, but the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes).

While these groups differ greatly in scale, they share a melding of jazz with Dominican music forms like the bachata and merengue, as well as traditional rhythms.

The Dominican Jazz Project
The Dominican Jazz Project
Summit Records
2016

The Dominican Jazz Project opens with three tunes written by Anderson, played mainly by the core quartet of Sandy Gabriel (tenor and soprano saxophone), Stephen Anderson (piano), Jeffry Eckels (bass), and Guy Frometa (drums). "Te Toca a Ti" is a fiery up-tempo introduction to the band, including memorable solos from Anderson and Gabriel. Percussionist David Almengod augments the quartet on "Zona Colonial," adding more latin flavor. Then the group shows their range with "Reflexiónes de la Mangulina," a composition that largely eschews conventional Afro-Cuban moves in favor of (frequently quiet) instrumental interplay.

Guitarist/vocalist Carlos Luís makes his first appearance on his ballad "De Humo y Lunas," which also features Guillo Carias on clavietta (a harmonica-like reed instrument in the melodica family). Through the rest of the set these two only appear on each other's compositions, lending a folkloric flavor which contrasts nicely with the more jazz-flavored quartet tracks.

Saxophonist Gabriel contributes one memorable tune, "A Dominican in North Carolina." Luís's "Vocalizo" is a beautiful vocalise, his wordless vocals reminiscent of Milton Nascimento. His acoustic guitar playing is largely limited to accompaniment, but he finally takes a brief solo on his own "En la Otra Orilla." Fittingly, the set closes with Carias's haunting "Zamira," which employs the entire collective: quartet, guitar, clavietta, and Juan Alamo's congas.

It's not hard to hear why these musicians decided to document their playing together. Their album is full of creative energy and the joy of musical discovery.

Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra
Back Home
Mama Records
2016

Socrates Garcia takes a journey back to his musical roots on the aptly-titled Back Home. He composed, arranged, conducted and produced the album (in addition to playing guitar on one track). The CD was recorded in two countries: the horns and the Dominican rhythm section were recorded in the U.S., while the percussion and vocals were recorded in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican recording studio was the same one he used to work at, making those sessions a literal homecoming.

The autobiographical aspect of the project is carried through in the song titles and stylistic choices. "Vantage Point" is based on the most emblematic Dominican genre, merengue, and features soloists Ryan Middagh (baritone sax) and Manuel Tejada (piano). "Calle el Conde a Las 8:00" is named for the historic street frequented by Garcia as a youth, a hub of artistic activity. Soloists are soprano saxophonist Wil Swindler's Elevenet and trumpeter Jordan Skomal. "Celebration of the Butterflies" is a hommage to the slain protesters the Mirabal sisters, and by extension a voice for non-violence against women. Kenyon Brenner solos on tenor sax, and guest guitarist Steve Kovalcheck turns in a memorable jazz guitar solo as well. The title tune is based on the bachata, a musical style developed in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. Garcia's musical autobiography is encapsulated in its merger of bachata, jazz, and a bit of rock music (with Garcia himself providing the guitar).

The program closes with the most ambitious piece, the three part "Dominican Suite For Jazz Orchestra." Some of this music was composed as part of his Doctoral dissertation, and was the inspiration to record this CD. "Homage to Tavito" salutes saxophonist Tavito Vasquez, the "Charlie Parker of the Caribbean" who combined bebop with merengue. No saxophone solo, but the spirit is evoked by trumpeter Brad Goode and Tejada's piano. "Bachata For Two" honors Garcia's wife Wanda, including another solo from Goode. "From Across the Street" is the only vocal selection on the album. By far the most folkloric sounding track, it evokes the Dominican folk music called Palos or Atabales, which includes heavy drumming and singing. In addition to the group of singers and drummers that begin the piece, it features Swindler's soprano sax and tambu drum soloist Rafael Almengod.

Tracks and Personnel

The Dominican Jazz Project

Tracks:Te Toca a Ti; Zona Colonial; Reflexiónes de la Mangulina; De Humo y Lunas; Nuestro Mundo; A Dominican in North Carolina; Vocalizo; Por la Causa; En la Otra Orilla; Salida; Zamira.

Personnel: Andy Gabriel: tenor and soprano saxophone; Guillo Carias: clavietta; Carlos Luís: vocals, guitar; Stephen Anderson: piano; Jeffry Eckels: bass; Guy Frómeta: drums; Juan Álamo: congas (tracks 4 and 11); David Almengod: percussion (tracks 2, 8, 10).

Back Home

Tracks: Vantage Point; Calle el Conde a Las 8:00; Celebration of the Butterflies; Back Home; Dominican Jazz Suite for Orchestra (Homage to Tavito / Bachata for Two / From Across the Street).

Personnel: Socrates Garcia: composer, arranger, conductor, guitar (4); Brad Goode: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Rajewski: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jordan Skomal: trumpet, flugelhorn; Miles Roth: trumpet, flugelhorn; Wil Swindler: alto, soprano sax, flute; Briana Harris: alto sax, flute; Kenyon Brenner: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Joel Harris: tenor sax, clarinet; Ryan Middagh: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Brielle Frost: flute; Joe Chisholm: trombone; Frank Cook: trombone; Jonathan Zimmy: trombone; Guillermo Rivera: trombone; Gary Mayne: bass trombone; Manuel Tejada: piano; Steve Kovalchek: guitar (3); Pengbian Sang: bass; Helen De Rosa: drums; Felix "Abuelo" Garcia: tambura, congas, atabales, vocal (7); Rafael Almengod: atabales, tambu, vocal (7); Josue Reynoso: guira; Otoniel Nicolas: timbal; Hovernys Garcia: vocal (7); Lia Nova: vocal (7).

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