Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bobby Sanabria Brings His Brilliant, Electrifying Reinvention of the West Side Story Score to Harlem This Weekend

Latin jazz drum sage Bobby Sanabria’s mission to tackle Leonard Bernstein’s iconic West Side Story score is ambitious, and a little hubristic. And it’s been done before: The Oscar Peterson Trio, the Stan Kenton Big Band, Dave Brubeck (obviously), Dave Liebman and Dave Grusin have all recorded various sections of the most radical Broadway score prior to Fela, with results from the sublime to….you get the picture. Sanabria and his Multiverse Big Band debuted their West Side Story Reimagined at Lincoln Center last month (sadly, this blog was in Brooklyn that night). Good news for anyone who missed that show: the band are reprising it at the amphitheatre in Marcus Garvey Park this Friday, Sept 14 at 7 PM. If you want a seat, you need to get there early.

As you would expect, the new double album – streaming at Spotify – adds plenty of welcome texture, sonic color and emphatic groove to Bernstein’s orchestration. Compared to previous jazz interpretations, what’s new about it is how heavy it is. The original is a lithe ballet score livened even further by Bernstein’s puckish wit. This version is gritty and in your face.

Sanabria is a connoisseur of just about every rhythm from throughout the Afro-Latin diaspora and beyond, and locks in on how eclectically inspired Bernstein was by all sorts of different rhythms from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and beyond. Yet Sanabria is also very highly attuned to the Stravinskian severity that makes such a stark contrast with the score’s lyricism, particularly as far as the ballads are concerned. Maybe it’s the focus on how much of a clave underscores so much of the music here, with charts by a grand total of nine separate arrangers, Sanabria included. Or maybe it’s just as much of a focus on the storyline’s stark relevance to current-day anti-immigrant paranoia.

This is not a solo-centric album: brief, punchy features for members of the ensemble go on for maybe eight bars at the most, with as many deft handoffs as momentary peaks amidst what Sanabria has very aptly described as a pervasive unease. Since the days of Tammany Hall, the ruling classes have pursued a relentless divide-and-conquer policy among New York’s innumerable ethnic groups, and the 1950s were no exception. In this hands of this mighty band, Bernstein’s keen perceptions are amplified even further.

Much as the new charts put the spotlight on the group’s amazingly versatile percussion section – alongside Sanabria, there’s Takao Heisho, Oreste Abrantes on congas and Matthew Gonzalez on bongós and cencerro – they hew closely to the original score. The deviations can be funny, but they have an edge. A Yoruba chant and a sardonically blithe dixieland interlude appear amid noir urban bustle, toweringly uneasy flares and noir urban bustle. Even the ballads – not all of which are included here – are especially electric. The band that rises to the challenge and succeeds epically here also includes Darwin Noguera on piano; Leo Traversa on bass; trumpeters Kevin Bryan, Shareef Clayton, Max Darché and Andrew Neesley; saxophonists David Dejesus, Andrew Gould, Peter Brainin, Jeff Lederer and Danny Rivera; trombonists Dave Miller, Tim Sessions, Armando Vergara and Chris Washburne; flutist Gabrielle Garo and violnist Ben Sutin.

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September 11, 2018 Posted by | classical music, jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eddie Palmieri Sets SoHo on Fire

In this era’s maze of weird tempos and microtones, sometimes some of us forget that jazz was the world’s default pop and dance music not for years but for decades. The crowd that packed SOB’s Friday night to see Eddie Palmieri hadn’t forgotten, though. It was as if it was 1965 all over again, in the best possible way. El gente were an eclectic mix of dancers, but just as many of them had come out for a concert experience, to listen and be blown away by the intensity of the music. Even the pianist at least partially responsible for the invention of salsa jazz was impressed by his 14-piece orchestra’s raw, feral power. There was a point where after Palmieri had wrung all the apprehension he could find out of a gleefully cautionary, Monkish riff, trombonist Chris Washburne grabbed a mean handful of low chromatics, ran with them and headed straight to the rafters, the band close behind. Would they ever back away and let it breathe for a minute? No way, Jose! The band’s stampeding ferocity could not be stopped, and at age 75, Palmieri is every bit as vital as he’s ever been, maybe better than ever.

He looked out at the crowd, remarked that the ambience was the same as it had been way back in day at the Palladium, then dedicated an expansively crescendoing version of Azucar Para Ti to Barry Rogers, the trombonist on that landmark album. The band had begun on an improvisationally-charged note – probably a good idea to tweak individual sound levels right off the bat considering how loud it was in the club, with the occasional howl of feedback bleeding from the PA early on – and as the heat rose, eventually took a turn into more hypnotic, two-chord-vamp Afro-Cuban grooves for the sake of the dancers. Crooner Herman Olivera held suave and resolute while the percussionists went deeper into a thicket of tropical polyrhythms punctuated by the incisions and roars of the horns, ablaze with minor-key fury. Palmieri is a generous leader, to a fault, playing to the strengths of the band and doling out solos throughout the orchestra. One particular star was the absolutely brilliant tres player Nelson Gonzalez, who was running his guitar through a watery, flanged effect that gave him almost as much volume as the trombones, making his way matter-of-factly through several slinky, unstoppably crescendoing solos, moving from fluid, sinuous melody lines to frenetic chord-chopping way up the fretboard. It looked as if he was about to break a string at any second, but he never did.

When Palmieri did take a solo, he was probably the most adventurous of everyone, slowly uncoiling from swinging broken chords, to insistent pedal motifs, to outright menace as he fired off several series of resonant atonal clusters anchored by his powerful low lefthand attack. Avant garde as it may have been, it made sense: this is a guy who’s been pushing the envelope all his life. And that was just the first set. Palmieri – who’s just been made a NEA Jazz Master – is off on world tour, with a return engagement at the New York Salsa Congress on September 2 at the Hilton at 6th Ave. and 53rd St. You have to wonder if the rest of the world is anywhere near ready for the kind of energy that the crowd here seemed to take for granted.

August 5, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment