When I recently featured three current works from big bands, I was called to task for not having included at least one Latin big band. Well certainly that was not by design as there are many Afro-Cuban and Latin based bands that deserve mention so here is one that clearly deserves to be included in the mix.
When you look at the cover of Multiverse, the latest album from Bobby Sanabria's Big Band, you are confronted with the serious stare of its leader. Doffed in a black hat, a graying soul patch and dark shaded glasses that offer reflections of distant galaxies mirrored on the surface of his lenses, clearly this self-proclaimed Nuyorican is looking into the universe for inspiration. Mr. Sanabria's universe is of course much more down to earth, it is the universe of diversity, the universality of music in its many varied and ethically influenced forms that that have made him the musician he is today. As a quote from the liner notes taken from Nobel Prize-winning poet Octavio Paz states, "Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life." It is this sentiment that infuses Mr. Sanabria's music and his mission. The Multiverse Big Band is a living, breathing organism that embodies the cross-genre diversity that Mr. Sanabria has come to represent.
As a jazz musician and a courageous proponent of the Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz traditions no one has been a more consistent and passionate spokesman for rallying more wide spread recognition of the Latin jazz idiom. It was Mr. Sanabria's vocal and ardent petitioning of NARAS (the ruling body for the Grammy Awards), that helped to re-instate a Grammy award in the category of Latin Jazz, after it had been summarily removed as a viable category for consideration.
On Mulitverse we find a powerful, well-orchestrated group of musicians playing music ranging from the cinematic to the sublime. The music is unified by a clave driven rhythm section, but true to its universal theme it contains elements of Latin dance, straight ahead jazz, modern big band arrangements and even funk and rap.
A case in point is the introductory piece from Don Ellis's theme to the movie The French Connection, driven by its hard, clave-centered rhythm section and pulsing brass choruses, Sanabria and company bring this smoker to a cinematic climax worthy of the movie. The use of an oddly futuristic sounding electric baritone solo by Danny Rivera is countered by the soaring plunger trumpet screams of Shareef Clayton before a blistering tenor solo by Jeff Lederer is met with the Australian bush sounds of the didgeridoo as played by Chris Washburne. It is as if Mr. Sanabria has created a masterful amalgam of sounds that cross all barriers of time and space.
"Cachita" is a slick modern arrangement by Jeremy Fletcher of the Rafael Hernadez piece. It's rhumba-like feel incorporates the dance rhythms of Latin music with tight section arrangements, some boisterous call and response from Hiram "El Pavo" Remon and saxophone solos of note from John Beaty on alto and Lederer on tenor. The song ends with a clave-driven bass solo by Leo Traversa.
Fletcher returns with his own contemporary composition "Jump Shot" with its cha-cha rhythm and its swirling section work. Solos by Washburne on bass trombone and Lederer on tenor add excitement. As the title implies, Sananbria and companies' deft use of percussive accents makes this one jump.
As if the world needed another version of "Over the Rainbow," arranger Andrew Neesley find a way to breathe new life into this classic The band supports vocalist Charnee Wade's wonderfully subtle interpretation of these timeless E.Y. Harburg lyrics. The band plays with warm sensitivity over Wade's beguiling voice.Time to go home Toto.
The funky Chris Washburne tune "Wordsworth Ho" has a free feel to it with boisterous choruses and angular changes in rhythmic direction that is quite contemporary in its approach. As always in Mr. Sanabria's bands, soloists are given just enough space to make a succinct point without becoming a distraction to the whole unit.
Other key selections from this marvelous album include a Jeff Lederer's arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" with its dynamic sectional chorus work and a fine solo by Peter Branin on tenor. Understanding that there are no boundaries in music, the song utilizes a timely rap by La Bruja with a backing vocal chorus from the band, making this one of the most cross-generational songs on the album.
Perhaps the most ambitious piece is Michael Philip Mossman's arrangement of this spectacular medley of Ellingtonia titled "Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite for Ellington." The suite seamlessly incorporates parts from "Black and Tan Fantasy" and "Satin Doll" to name a few and it does so with breezy facility that makes it look easy. David DeJesus's alto solo on "I Got It Bad It Aint Good" is heartfelt. The band swings on "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Aint Got That Swing)" with a slurred trombone solo by John Beaty and a rousing Latin chorus section of the theme leading to a trio of gutsy trumpet solos. A brief sampling of "Body And Soul" ends this one at the coda with a flurry of bongos, congas and a stirring drum solo courtesy of Mr.Sanabria.
The finale is "The Chicken/From Havana to Harlem-100 years of Mario Bauza" which is a celebration of Mr. Sanabria's mentor, the trumpet-playing bandleader Mario Bauza. The arrangement of the horn sections have a "Tower of Power" ala "Brecker Brothers" feel to it as one section plays melody and others pulse powerfully behind. A rousing Maceo Parker inspired soul/funk tenor solo by Norbert Stachel is featured and grabs the feel of this one perfectly. The song leads to a rap by La Bruja, with talks of the origins of the music, a short Bauza bio and some musical history of the Afro-Cuban musical experience.
For those who love the power and the synchronicity of eighteen musicians playing together as one Multiverse is one hard driving band that deserves more attention. The album was Grammy nominated and the band will be playing at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola Dec 19th-22nd so if you're in New York for the holidays this is a not to be missed.
Personnel: Bobby Sanabria, leader, arranger, percussion, xylophone and drums; Christian Rivera congas, background vocals, Obanilu Allende, bongo/cenerro; Mathew Gonzalez, bongo, cencerro; Hiram "El Pavo" Remon, lead vocal, background vocals; Enrique Haneine, piano; Leo Traversa, bass and background vocals; Trumpets: Kevin Bryan, Shareef Clayton; Jonathan Barnes and Andrew Neesley; Saxophones: David DeJesus, Peter Branin; Norbert Stachel; Jeff Lederer, Danny Rivera.
Trombones; Dave Miller, Tim Sessions, Joe Beaty, Chris Washburne. Charnee Wade Vocal, La Bruj:Spoken word/rap. Additional Background Vocals: Gene Jeffereson, Mary Gatchell and Georgia Schmidt. Boma Yuba Section: Ernesto Lucar and Gene Marlow.