In Cuban music, emotional grandeur and extravagant virtuosity is built on a foundation of inexhaustible rhythm. So, it's no surprise to find an abundance of juicy melodies and breathtaking drumming on Transparency
from drummer and MacArthur "Genius" Fellow Dafnis Prieto
Yet for all the astonishing things he does behind the kit, what stands out on Transparency
is the dazzling formal sophistication of Prieto's compositions. Eight of the nine composer credits are his and the outlier, an arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie
's "Con Alma" as a ballad in five, is so transformed as to seem like his alone.
Prieto builds on a foundation of strong, often cinematic melodies and sturdy rhythms, but the devil is in the unexpected and delightful details. The short, shuffle-rhythm tag he adds to the solos section of "Uncerntradition" is like a head nod to the Jazz Messengers editions with the same trumpet, alto and tenor saxophone front line featured here.
"Cry With Me" begins with a vaulting, tumbling drum solo over which the horns introduce a unison chorale figure that returns after Peter Apfelbaum
's sprinting tenor saxophone solo over a boiling conga rhythm. When Prieto shifts to a fast three for Alex Norris
' trumpet solo, the chorale theme bounces to Alex Brown
's piano then back to the horns under Roman Filiu
's alto solo, but this time with an added syncopation. Prieto drops in short, breathtaking drum breaks after each of the horn solos in a kind of rondo structure, each break introducing a new rhythm. The last lands unexpectedly and delightfully in classic swing time, with the chorale figure now reincarnated as a syncopated Horace Silver
There are compositional wrinkles like this in every cut, and they're easy to miss as you're swept along by the rhythmic whirlwind set up by Prieto, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller
and Brown. But while classic Afro-Cuban rhythms are always present, they are seldom foregrounded. Prieto likes to mix things up. So, a galloping seven-(or maybe fourteen-) beat rhythm drives "On This Way," for which Brown sustains a finger-busting Scott-Joplin-meets-Conlon- Nancarrow piano figure for an inhuman length of time. Weidenmueller on electric bass kicks off "Nothing or Everything" in 11 and only Prieto knows how many multiple intersecting rhythmic cycles are on "Feed the Lions," a piece strongly reminiscent of Prieto's old boss, Steve Coleman
. Only the 1960s boogaloo "Lazy Blues," which is essentially a drum solo marked off by occasional piano stabs, sounds simple. Yet for all Prieto's architectural complexity, the surge of melody and the constant pull of the beat provide an easy path through the sixty-six minutes of music.
Dafnis Prieto has long been able to turn his drum kit into a one-man Cuban percussion section of cowbell, congas and timbales, holding four different rhythms together at once. On Transparency
, he does the same thing with melody, harmony and form, and he makes it sound easy.
Amanecer Contigo; No Es Fácil; Uncerntradition; Con Alma; Cry With Me; On the Way; Feed the Lions; Nothing
or Everything; Lazy Blues.
Peter Apfelbaum: melodica, percussion; Roman Filiu: soprano saxophone; Johannes Weidenmueller: electric bass.