Ah, Dafnis Prieto. As a drummer he’s a propulsive explosion of joy, energy and rhythm. As a composer and arranger, Prieto demonstrates a talent for beautifully layered, complex music that somehow remains dance-worthy. Now, The Cuban-born, New York-based bandleader has expanded that talent onto a larger musical palette with Back To The Sunset.
The release marks the debut of the Dafnis Prieto Big Band, a project we started hearing about early in 2017, when Prieto began a fund-raising campaign to support organizing, rehearsing and recording this 17-piece, heroic big band. The DPBB had its world premiere last August. After three days of rehearsal, it delivered a rave-filled, three-night stand at Jazz Standard in New York City, then immediately went into the studio to lay it all down for history. The result is a big, beautiful, bodacious tribute to Prieto’s heroes and one of the best recordings of the year.
Prieto has assembled an all-star Latin jazz lineup here. The trumpet section of Mike Rodríguez, Nathan Eklund, Alex Sipiagin and Josh Deutsch; the saxophone section of Román Filiú, Michael Thomas, Peter Apfelbaum, Joel Frahm and Chris Cheek; the trombones of Tim Albright, Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik and Jeff Nelson; and the rhythm section of Manuel Valera, Ricky Rodriguez, Roberto Quintero and Prieto deserve to be called out individually, because they played amazingly as a group.
The set kicks off with “Una Vez Más”—a bold tip of the hat to Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri and trumpeter Brian Lynch. It just pounds with bravura. Guest soloing here, Lynch blows with power and poise, matching the force of the band. Lynch’s solo is followed by a rhythm explosion between Prieto and Quintero on percussion. There are two other very interesting guests on this set that one might not expect to hear in a Latin jazz setting. Saxophonist Henry Threadgill takes the lead on Prieto’s lovely ballad “Back To The Sunset,” which he dedicates to Threadgill and Andrew Hill. It’s a song of lush horn-section work, with Threadgill’s plaintive alto saxophone fluttering, cooing and crying to take the tune in surprising directions.
Another guest, alto saxophonist Steve Coleman, is fantastic with his spiritual, contemplative lead over “Song For Chico,” dedicated to Chico and Arturo O’Farrill, as well as Mario Bauzá. Inviting Threadgill and Coleman to the gig demonstrates Prieto’s wide musical world without boundaries. He has worked with and admired both. They, in turn, greatly enhance music that some might consider outside their milieu. And that’s what this record is about: forging a different kind of trail through musical love and admiration.
The set closes with “The Triumphant Journey,” dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, even dropping in musical quotes from these giants of Latin jazz. It’s a fantastic closer to a terrific album. Prieto might be paying tribute to his heroes, but this isn’t a nostalgia piece. He points clearly toward a future for big band music, as well as Latin jazz. I hope this band gets to tour. It needs to be heard.