Historically, the hippest cats have always been ableto connect the dots. They seem to have an innate understanding of the big picture and their relation to it, how the secrets of the music get passed down from generation to generation, how cultures interact and influence each other in a cross-pollinating manner over time. The connection between American jazz and Cuban rhythms was pointed out in the 1940s by pioneers like Chano Pozo, Machito, Mario Bauzá and Dizzy Gillespie while a succession of disciples from Tito Puente and Cal Tjader to Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto and Jerry Gonzalez -- innovators and enlightened cats all -- has been mining that motherlode ever since.
Bobby Sanabria is definitely in that number. An astute and passionate champion for Afro-Cuban music, he is also acutely aware of the history and development of jazz from A(rmstrong) to Z(awinul). On this recording,
he has pared down his vision to a powerhouse quartet, integrating his deep understanding of rhythm into a remarkably flexible unit that can turn on a dime from surging bebop to an infectious Cuban songo, from
delicate waltz time swing to a lively mambo or Trinidadian soca. With John di Martino on piano, Jay Collins on saxes and flutes, Boris Kozlov on acoustic bass and Sanabria on drums, this formidable foursome roars its way through an exhilarating set that is bookended by two Dizzy Gillespie bop anthems - the opener "Shaw 'Nuff" and the closer "Be-Bop." In between we are treated to spirited originals by Sanabria's crew that cuts a wider stylistic swath than any of his previous working groups.
"Shaw 'Nuff," Dizzy's landmark 1945 composition, was the harbinger of a new sound in jazz, introducing angular melodies that required virtuosic technique to play, new harmonies which gave the soloists different
choices and challenges along with fresh rhythmic concepts that Dizzy had absorbed from Mario Bauzá while they were members of the Cab Calloway Orchestra. Bobby's quartet interpretation features some unique
twists and turns that bridge the parallel universes of the Afro-Caribbean and jazz traditions.
The relationship between straight-ahead jazz swing feel and West African rooted bembé rhythm is highlighted on guitarist Ron Muldrow's composition "Soleshia". Opening with a solo groove statement in 6/8 meter by Bobby on multiple cowbells and kit, the lyricism of the melody is then introduced through Collins' beautiful soprano sax work. The bridge of the tune segues into 3/4 jazz waltz feel underscored by
Sanabria's tasty brushwork before returning to the original 6/8 Afro-Cuban bembé groove. The closing chants are for Changó, the fiery Yoruba deity from Nigeria.
"Funky Mr. D" is a combination of Cuban bolero, samba cansão from Brazil and the blues. Collins' robust tenor carries the melody in romantic fashion then opens up at the earthy son section that closes the tune. On "Blue", Bobby's son Roberto José is featured reciting his own poetry with jazzy background, a tradition that goes back to Jack Kerouac and the beat poets of the 1950s. Roberto José was nine at the time he wrote this poem and 15 at the time of this recording.
"Child's Walk" is Sanabria's musical response to seeing a young toddler trying to walk for the first time. As he explains, "I composed this after
reminiscing over the joy I felt after seeing my son take his first steps. Learning to walk, as we all know, is not an easy thing but a fun thing." Collins' soprano work is luminous over this mambo groove, then the saxophonist switches to flute for his own gorgeous ballad, "Ebb & Flow", which also showcases di Martino's gentle lyricism on piano. At the outro,
Bobby switches gears and shifts to bossa nova and then double time samba to lift Jay's final flute statement.
The title of Sanabria's surging workout "El Trane" is a play on words for Elvin Jones and John Coltrane. Like a speeding freight train in the 1960s, Trane represented the ultimate in harmonic innovation while
his drumming counterpart Elvin represented the ultimate in polyrhythmic innovation in jazz. Bobby's composition pays tribute to these innovators with some fiery all-out blowing by Collins on tenor and di Martino on piano. Bobby's final explosive drum statement brings it all back to the roots. And catch Kozlov's closing bowed quote from Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" at the tag.
Di Martino's "Aum" reflects the influence of Middle Eastern culture on Southern Spain and Caribbean forms like the rumba from Cuba and the jibaro vocal traditions of Puerto Rico. John's approach in his piano solo lends an Arabic flavor to the piece, as does Kozlov's beautiful bass improvisation and Collins' haunting solo on the bansuri (flute). And
through it all, the rhythmic traditions of the Middle East, Cuba, Puerto-Rico and Brazil are all integrated into one cohesive unit on the kit by Sanabria, who also offers a melodic drum solo.
Another landmark Gillespie composition, the anthemic "Be-Bop", brings this multi-cultural journey back to where it started. A showcase for the quartet's virtuosity in a minor key, the arrangement is a kaleidoscope of Afro-Cuban and jazz rhythms. From fast timba to mambo to half-time straight ahead swing to double time mambo/songo to an explosive drum solo which brings the melody back to a cha-cha-cha, it's a
final charge of explosive mambo madness.
Sanabria and company connect the dots with equal parts passion and virtuosity, fire and grace on this highly-charged offering.
Bill Milkowski is a regular contributor to Jazz Times. He is also the author of "JACO: The Extraordinary And Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius" (Backbeat Books).
All arrangements by Bobby Sanabria. Produced by Bobby Sanabria. Recorded at Tedesco Studios, Paramus, NJ by John Rosenberg, December 19 & 23, 2001. Mixed by James Gately & Bobby Sanabria at Valhalla Studios, New York. Mastered at the Carriage House, Stamford, CT by Phil Magnotti and Bobby Sanabria. Drum techs: Arei Sekiguchi & Billy Fox. Photography: Fernando Natalici. Package design: 2712 Design Ltd. www.2712design.com. Project coordinator: Judith Z. Miller. Executive Producer: Joachim Becker.