Bobby Sanabria's music is heard in Jazz Caribe!
Enjoy it and ¡¡Viva The Latin Jazz!!,
Luis Raul Montell
“Whoever told you mambo died in the 1950s hasn’t been paying attention,” Bobby Sanabria inveighed from behind a drum kit. He was closely surrounded by 18 other musicians. Directly behind him stood the singer and percussionist Hiram Remón. Inches to his right, sat the conga player Orestes Abrantes, wearing earplugs to protect himself against Mr. Sanabria’s crash cymbal.
This was an hour or so into Mr. Sanabria’s Multiverse Big Band’s late set at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on Thursday night, and he had been drumming, conducting and explaining continuously about the crosscurrents of Afro-Latin music in his black tuxedo and white tie. “If you don’t believe me,” he said, “just listen to the saxophones.”
From that full-stop moment after a peaceful maraca solo by Mr. Remón — a pause in Rafael Hernández’s “Cachita,” one of the suites and multiform conceptual pieces during the set — Mr. Sanabria counted off a new tempo. The four saxophones played a section arrangement that did, in fact, have its roots in the 1950s. But the piece moved through various kinds of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythm, roaring collective passages and moments of contrast when the band stopped its hustle, deflating and growing still, and put old languages, including the saxophone arrangements, to new ends.
Mr. Sanabria, Bronx born, has led a big band off and on for 15 years. (It is correct to say that he also teaches at the Manhattan School of Music, but basically he teaches all the time. He was in the news last year for his involvement in an organized protest against the elimination of 31 categories for Grammy Awards, which led to the reinstatement of the Latin Jazz category.) Not long ago, the band had a weekly residency at the FB Lounge in East Harlem, gaining momentum until the club closed in 2011. This week the Multiverse Big Band has its first extended engagement at a major New York jazz club, and it’s past ready — accomplished and eager to help you catch up with whatever you’ve missed.
Explanations and arguments burst out of it, and solos, including focused, memorable ones from the tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer and the trombonist Chris Washburne. Typically, Mr. Sanabria prefaced a piece by discussing how and why it mixes its forms — as in “Pink,” a mixture of son montuno and cha-cha-cha written by Mr. Washburne, or “Que Viva Candido,” a piece echoing the musical reach of Candido Camero, the 92-year-old Cuban conguero who brought Afro-Latin rhythm knowledge into jazz, salsa and funk for 60 years, and is therefore Mr. Sanabria’s kind of guy. He told the audience twice, with vigor, that Hernández — one of Puerto Rico’s most famous composers, whose story is entwined with the early jazz bandleader James Reese Europe — was left out of Ken Burns’s “Jazz” documentary. And he’s said this before, but the complaint had a different resonance at Dizzy’s Club, part of Jazz at Lincoln Center, an establishment that has deep associations with Mr. Burns’s films.
Let’s say this group had unlimited work opportunities. Given the magnitude of its possible repertory, would it be less inclined to teach and explain? Would it be a less didactic experience? (The set closed with a version of Dave Brubeck’s “Strange Meadowlark,” but not before Mr. Sanabria made the point that a Brubeck tribute on the last Grammys telecast had been unfairly cut short.) Maybe not. The band is about context and history, making its connections visible: It constructs an explicit narrative of Afro-Latin music as a natural part of jazz and American culture, and as an even older, bigger force.
New York Times