Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dafnis Prieto | Triangles and Circles

In and of himself, the Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto has been one of the most impressive musicians in New York jazz over the past 15 years. Whatever band he’s playing in, at some point the rigor of his playing commands you to focus directly on him. Each stroke of each different rhythm, from each different limb, feels exact, efficient, full of intent. A lot of bands, many of them Cuban ones, can show you how polyrhythm works with great clarity, as if demonstrating the intersection of gears. Mr. Prieto routinely does that all alone, with grace notes, even when he’s playing behind someone else’s solo.

But his style of composition explicitly puts the ensemble first. He writes pieces of music with great balance, in which one whirling ensemble section flows into the next, each containing a new melodic strain and just enough space for a soloist to make a mark over a vamp, then stop before indirection sets in. His sextet is full of fluid improvisers — the saxophonists Peter Apfelbaum and Felipe Lamoglia, the trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, the pianist Manuel Valera, the bassist Johannes Weidenmueller — but they’re tightly managed.

Two particular qualities arise in the ambitious and organized “Triangles and Circles,” his sixth album and the second by his sextet. One is external: its breadth of style. It represents a formally complex sort of Latin jazz incubated in New York over the past decade and a half, a movement in which Mr. Prieto has been crucial. But it also can put you in mind of music made by Wynton Marsalis (especially “Blah Blah Blah,” a piece in which Mr. Prieto interprets New Orleans rhythm — which is something to hear if you’re interested in rhythm) and some of Henry Threadgill’s work from the 1980s (“The Evil in You,” with its intricately stuttering, dot-dash written parts and clarion ensemble moments).

And it can also make you think purely of music as an organized colloquy, built of questions and answers: Wherever something emphatic is expressed, a riposte and a resolution will shortly arrive. All that’s missing is a true, front-and-center, climactic drum solo from Mr. Prieto, which finally comes in the last minute of the last song. Ben Ratliff/The New York Times

“Emotionally charged and stylistically diverse, carried along not just by rhythm but also through lovely harmonized passages, horn fanfares, and powerfully conjured moods.” -The Wall Street Journal

Listen to NPR's Interview with Dafnis Prieto

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