Dafnis Prieto Big Band - Back To The Sunset

Label: Dafnison Music, 2018

Personnel – Mike Rodriguez, Nathan Eklund, Alex Sipiagin, Josh Deutsch: trumpet/flugelhorn; Roman Filiu, Michael Thomas, Peter Apfelbaum, Joel Fraham, Chris Cheek: reeds; Tim Albright, Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik: trombone; Jeff Nelson: bass trombone; Manuel Valera: paino; Ricky Rodriguez: bass; Roberto Quintero: percussion; Dafnis Prieto: drums + Guests – Brian Lynch: trumpet; Henry Threadgill: alto sax; Steve Coleman: alto sax.


Although I’m not a staunch fan of Latin jazz, there are a few records that stand out, whether due to its bold arrangements, vivid harmonic colors, or distinctive contagious rhythms and energy. This is the case of Back To The Sunset, a kaleidoscopic big band record by Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto, who employs a roster of reed titans and rhythm experts to shape up nine original compositions, each of them dedicated to influential mentors/musicians. 

Una Vez Mas” punches up the verve with strong horn figures and a rousing rhythm. A pure Latin allure comes from typical piano movements, while the soloists - pianist Manuel Valera and guest trumpeter Brian Lynch - offer up much of their instinct musicality, both melodically and rhythmically. After their discourses, Prieto and percussionist Roberto Quintero make the temperature rise with a conjoint percussive feast. 

The Sooner The Better”, dedicated to Egberto Gismonti and Jerry Gonzalez, boasts a piano pedal while Ricky Rodriguez expresses thoughts on the double bass. After that, the bassist ensures the pedal, and discernible rhythmic shifts precede wholehearted improvisations by Peter Apfelbaum on tenor, Alex Sipiagin on flugelhorn, and Roman Filiu on alto. The soloists’ atonal diversions reflect the brilliance of their language.

Saxophonist Chris Cheek, groovin' on the baritone here, introduces “Out of the Bone”, a piece whose improvisational section is inclined to the low tonal range due to acts from Jeff Nelson on bass trombone, as well as trombonists Alan Ferber and Jacob Garchik, who duel with pertinacity.

The most grandiose moment of the record comes with the title track, coinciding with the second guest appearance. Acclaimed alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill kills it with a sensitive, sharp solo, beautifully developed outside the standard patterns while driving this ballad into his own musical realms. The tune was dedicated to him and genial pianist Andrew Hill.

The third and last guest musician is M-base pioneer Steve Coleman, who, not as edgy as in his musical odysseys, plays his alto with competence on “Song For Chico”, a tribute to Chico O’Farrill, Arturo O’Farrill, and Maria Bauzá. 

Danzomish Potpourri” kicks in with Prieto’s distinctive drumming. A pleasurable melodicism drives us to a rampant, feverish pulse that only lasts throughout Michael Thomas’ busy improvisation on soprano. The primary pace, far more relaxed, is re-established to expose Valera’s dreamy ideas and Apfelbaum’s tearful melodica sounds, which bring the song to a conclusion in a 3/4 meter signature.

Authoritative individualities emerge from “The Triumphant Journey”, where juxtaposed horn layers dance under the spell of a 6/8 time signature that suddenly mutates to a slower 4/4 to serve as a receptacle for the improvisations. The vernacular elasticity of saxist Joel Frahm stands out, together with Filiu, who finalizes with magnetic appeal.

Encompassing the worlds of Latin and jazz music, this 75-minute fusion tour is full-blooded and predominantly spirited.

       Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - The Sooner The Better ► 04 - Back To The Sunset ► 09 - The Triumphant Journey

Steve Slagle - Dedication

Label/Year: Panorama Records, 2017

Lineup – Steve Slagle: alto sax, flute; Lawrence Fields: piano; Scott Colley: drums; Bill Stewart: drums + guest Dave Stryker: guitar.


Experienced American altoist/flautist Steve Slagle, the former director of the Mingus Big Band, has a curriculum filled with fruitful collaborations in a wide variety of genres with respected names such as Joe Lovano, The Beastie Boys, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Carla Bley, Steve Kuhn, and Milton Nascimento. 

The successor of last year's Alto Manhattan is called Dedication. Released on Panorama Records, the album, an organic brew of post-bop statements frequently boosted by Latin infusions, comprises nine tracks dedicated to people or things that were relevant in Slagle’s musical career. In regard to the last album, the saxophonist maintains the pianist Lawrence Fields, drummer Bill Stewart, and percussionist Roman Diaz in the lineup, replacing the bassist Gerald Cannon for the ultra-competent Scott Colley and inviting his longtime collaborator, guitarist Dave Stryker, to participate in six songs.

The elated “Sun Song”, dedicated to saxophonist Sonny Rollins, spreads an uplifting lightness, conveying a fire-hose charm that feels very celebratory within its Latin nature. Slagle’s fluid, off-kilter language comes out with a brittle and tempered timbre, and on the tail of Fields’ unnerving solo, the band trades eights with the percussion team.

It’s definitely a strong start that doesn't lose steam when we go to “Niner”, a piece that honors the electric bassist Steve Swallow, and “Major In Come”, an ode to the art of swinging built on major chords in five different keys. The former composition, showing off the theme’s statement under a sax-guitar unison, is rhythmically dominated by an animated bass groove and funky pulse, while the latter provides us with a hard-swinging gush that would make Joe Lovano satisfied and features Stewart’s readable drum solo.

The band attests an easily bent temperament when digging “Triste Beleza”, an illustrative bossa nova appointment propelled by Stryker’s luxurious acoustic guitar voicings, Stewart’s gentle brushwork, and Diaz’s fortifying conga sounds.
The hefty swinger “Opener”, evoking the energy of saxophonist Jackie McLean, is adorned with hot rhythms and the bandleader’s double-faced output, first on alto sax and then wrapping up on flute.

Slagle incorporated two external compositions on the album: Stryker’s “Corazon”, a meek tribute to Weather Report’s keyboardist Joe Zawinul, and Wayne Shorter’s “Charcoal Blues”, harmonically defined by the guitarist’s amiable chords and spoken with the incumbent blues stratum in mind.

Dedication was aligned to furnish a sturdy opening, but the album wanes in vibrancy after the fourth track. Even feeling limited in extraordinary stretches, it fulfills its objectives with an unperturbed orderliness and should earn the attention of both classic post-bop and Latin jazz supporters.

        Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Sun Song ► 02 – Niner ► 04 – Triste Beleza