Dafnis Prieto Sextet
Taking the Soul For a Walk

Dafnis Prieto Sextet Taking the Soul For a Walk

Review by Brad Walseth

Say what you will about the abuses of the Communist Cuban regime of Fidel Castro, but you have to admire its focus on the arts, which has admittedly helped create some stellar musicians through its rigorous training methods. The state sponsored music regiment produces highly skilled musicians, while the natural rhythms of the island nation and close knit community of musicians who teach each other the complex traditional rhythms also contribute to the development of some supremely talented musicians. Unfortunately, most of these artists' talents are never exposed to the outside world. The few who do manage to leave, often live as exiles, leaving family and friends behind, as in the case of drummer Dafnis Prieto who has exploded as a force on the world Jazz scene, but has been unable to see his own mother in a decade.

Prieto pays tribute to his Mom on "Prelude para Rosa," as well as evoking the souls of several recently departed Latin jazz artists, on his third release as a leader, "Taking the Soul For a Walk." Several of the pieces that form the backbone of this exceptional release were commissioned by Chamber Works America, and Prieto states that the 12 tracks were written to convey journeys to the emotions described in the titles such as "Tell Me About Her," "Just Say It" and "You'll Never Say Yes." Backed by a crack group of players especially suited to bring the composer's vision to fruition, Prieto presents a cavalcade of original compositions that combine Afro-Cuban rhythms with modern jazz textures into a highly original and combustive blend.

Prieto’s drumming is central of course, and it is truly amazing that this young man can produce such a banquet of sounds from his kit. I had to look twice at the credits because I was sure there had to be a number of percussionists involved, but Prieto handles it all himself. With talented players like trumpeter Avishai Cohen, saxophonists Peter Apfelbaum and Yosvany Terry and keyboardist Mauel Valera laying the sounds over the rhythm bed of Prieto and bassist Yunior Terry, one could hardly go wrong, but it is the strength of the arrangements of these fantastic compositions that really allows everyone to shine. Showing confident maturity and youthful excitement in their proper places, these songs simply shimmer with vitality.

The title track starts things off by combining experimental jazz countermelodies with propulsive drumming in a piece meant to evoke liberation, while "Until the Last Minute" is a touching danzon for the late conguero Miguel "Anga" Diaz. Meanwhile, "The Sooner the Better" is a mix of nostalgia, regret, sadness and determination, hope and energy that quite amazes the listener with its many directions. The aforementioned "Prelude para Rosa" features Ital Kriss on flute on this lovely song, while "I Felt You Were Coming" is based on the street rhythms Prieto played while a student in Havana. The album ends with a bang with the aptly titled "Emergency Call." But these are just a small portion of the highlights of this wonderful album, the first to be released on Prieto’s own label "Dafnison Music."

Music this dense and colorful is nearly impossible to describe. There are more great changes and ideas in a single track than one often finds in whole albums. Joyful, masterful, and brimming with beauty and power, "Taking the Soul for a Walk" simply astonishes, and is clearly one of the best releases I've heard so far this year.

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