Album of the Week: Kenya Revisited, Live!!!, Bobby Sanabria Conducting The Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra

by chip on May 22, 2009

Kenya Revisited Live
Bobby Sanabria Conducting The Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra

Today’s young generation represents the future of Latin Jazz, but the acceptance of this responsibility requires a broad artistic vision that captures the past, present, and future of the genre. Today’s generation stands upon the shoulders of a music with a rich and often misunderstood history that reaches from coast to coast and into the depth of the Caribbean and South America. They need to understand and accept the genre’s inherent duality, soaking themselves in the complex harmonies and melodic language of jazz and the rhythmic intricacies of rumba, mambo, cha cha cha, and more. Their study of the past needs to go beyond the surface, delving deep into the works of Machito, Bauza, Puente, and all the masters that established the foundations of the Latin Jazz world. Today’s generation needs this in-depth connection to the past, but the also need to aware of the world in front of them. They can’t ignore modern trends and innovations; otherwise they risk turning the lively Latin Jazz classics into a series of static museum pieces. There needs to be a conscious awareness of both eras – rather than revisit the Latin Jazz master works of the past, today’s generation needs to re-imagine them. They need to respectfully recognize the contributions of our elders, build a deep understanding and then view them through the filters of today’s modern music world. This places the younger generation in a precarious position of maintaining the roots of our tradition without letting them become irrelevant; a task that will determine the future of Latin Jazz for many years. Fortunately, percussionist Bobby Sanabria is leading this charge, guiding The Manhattan School Of Music’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra on a creative ride through one of the most important albums in Latin Jazz history on Kenya Revisited Live.

Diving Into Jazz Heavy Tracks
The orchestra dives deep into the classic jazz heavy tracks with enthusiastic vigor, displaying some outstanding technical abilities and top-notch soloing skills. The group recognizes the contributions of sax legend Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on A.K. Salim’s “Cannonology,” opening with moving harmonies and intertwining wind parts. Alto saxophonist Justin Janer tears through the changes with a virtuosic display of impassioned improvisatory magic paying tribute to the jazz master in a grand style as the band screams with sharp attacks. The group breaks into a percussion ensemble as the audience claps clave and the band sings a repeated coro, providing the opportunity for percussionist Giancarlo Anderson to show that he has studied the Machito Orchestra’s original bongocero Jose Mangual Sr. The sax section breezes through a laid back melody over a consistent cha cha cha rhythm on “Blues A La Machito,” weaving through percussive accents from the brass players. Trumpet player J.J. Kirkpatrick digs into the song’s soulful sound with a wah wah mute, creating a raw and funky sensation that pushes the band forward. The group builds upon Kirkpatrick’s momentum, moving into a confident swagger that resonates with the best qualities of the blues. The rhythm section dives into a powerful bembe rhythm beneath Salim’s classic theme on “Conversation” as trumpet player Jonathan Barnes rides through the band’s rich texture with a melodic reading on Harmon mute. A unison break sends the band sailing into an up-tempo mambo, before the rhythm section falls into a ferocious swing section behind tenor saxophonist Pawan Benjamin. As the band shows that it swings with a fire, tenor saxophonist Michael Davenport takes a strong solo before the sax section rips into bebop charged soli. Pianist Christian Sylvester Sands displays an advanced musical maturity with an extended introduction to the Chano Pozo classic “Tin Tin Deo.” The band visits the well-known melody before supporting an involved improvisation from Sands and a solo from electric bassist Billy Norris who develops his idea into a climatic statement. The rhythm section disappears as the trombones take center stage in a rich choral, guiding the band into a half time swing for some the of the album’s most creative arranging. The students maintain a strong connection to the album’s jazz heavy pieces, relying upon their strong set of musical skills to push the envelope.

Creating Swinging Palladium Era Mambo
The students also leave no question that they have studied their Palladium era mambo, with an equally swinging set of inspired performances rooted in Afro-Cuban dance music. The saxes hit an aggressive stride with a sharp repeated rhythmic pattern behind a virtuosic melodic display from the brass players on the up-tempo burner “Frenzy.” The trombone section proves their worth with a frenetic exchange of improvised ideas, bringing Tim Vaughn, Felix Fromm, Nate Adkins, and T.J. Robinson into the forefront. The band switches to a minor mode as Janer races over the changes with a fiery solo that slides into a crazed sax soli and an impressive improvised display from drummer Norman Edwards. Arranger Danny Rivera creates a distinctive tribute to Cannonball Adderley on “Oyeme” as he slides the chord changes to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” behind Salim’s original melody. The sax section harmonizes the first four measures of Adderley’s recorded solo, serving as a springboard for a mixture of modal improvisation and witty rhythmic playing from alto saxophonist Vince Nero. Trumpet player Michael Taylor screams into his solo with a bold long note that leads into a fiery statement before the band disappears for a collective improvisation from Nero and Taylor. The saxes established a percussive rhythmic pattern, guiding the band into a catchy melody on “Holiday,” playfully executed by Barnes and his Harmon mute. The winds and the rhythm section roar with an intertwining break as Barnes abandons the mute and fearlessly jumps into stream of strong hard bop fueled melodic lines. After an interesting interlude, Fromm bravely travels through the changes with a fierce improvisation before the band leaps into the melody with a thick harmonized sound. Individual band members layer into the groove on “Minor Rama” before the saxes and trombone trades pieces of the melody with an unstoppable inertia and an impeccable rhythmic feel. Baritone saxophonist Michael Sherman exposes the instrument’s finest qualities with a raging stream of notes that travels from lows to highs with a passionate bravura. A frighteningly precise soli section leads the band into a percussion feature where percussionist Christian Rivera presents a tasteful bongó solo, filled with classic licks. The orchestra proves that they have done their homework on every front, ripping through up-tempo mambos with an authentic feel and a spirited performance aesthetic.

Inspiration From Guest Artists
With their broad range of skills on full display, the orchestra makes their final connection to the original recording with some guest appearances from master Latin Jazz musicians. The rhythm section establishes a laid-back Afro feel with gentle sax kicks on Mario Bauzá and Rene Hernández’s “Kenya,” finding a nice space for Vaughn to walk his trombone through the melody. The band travels through some gorgeous textures with rich thick chords that lead into a restatement of the melody from Benjamin. In an explosive change of gears, the rhythm section flies into a no-holds barred rumba abierta as guest soloist Candido Camero shows his chops, taste, and musicality with a memorable conga solo. The sax section aggressively races through high tempo bop lines and the brass section provides sharp attacks as Camero handles the fast tempo with skill on “Wild Jungle.” Taylor drives his trumpet through the high tempo with screaming high notes until Benjamin enters with a ferocious improvised intensity over the manic groove. The band hits brash kicks as Sanabria fills through them on the drum kit, turning the spotlight to Camero, who matches the song’s momentum for a while before riding through an unaccompanied statement. The band romps through an original arrangement of “Congo Mulence” which alters the song’s basic feel by combining several different rhythmic styles. Trumpet player Anthony Stanco struts through the greasy cha cha cha with a bluesy plunger mute before handing the front spot to Davenport for soulful improvisation full of screeching high sax notes. Sands flies through an up-tempo son montuno before Norris evokes a deep Cachao influence on an acoustic bass solo and Sanabria delivers an energetic timbale solo. The band takes a totally different approach on Salim’s “Tururato” with a funky New Orleans second line feel that simply overflows with a down home appeal. Barnes soars over the riffing sax section with quick runs, screaming high pitches, and some improvised harmonies from his partners in the trumpet section. The band comes down, providing a centerpiece for Norris, who displays some impressive electric bass funk chops before Sanabria engages in the audience in a fun and spontaneous call and response. Camero and Sanabria create that final link for the students, connecting their extensive studies to the roots of the tradition in a very real and authentic way.

Keeping The Future of Latin Jazz In Good Hands
Sanabria and the Manhattan School of Music’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra display the results of an intensive study on Kenya Revisited Live, and their performance reveals a thorough understanding of the past with an eye on the future. Each track resonates with the heart and soul of the Machito classic which set the standard for excellence in big band Latin Jazz over fifty years ago. Sanabria infuses the students with an appreciation of the music, a love of the style, and an informed perspective on the inner workings of each chart. Joe Fiedler, Danny Rivera, Andrew Neesley, and Michael Philip Mossman help shape the proceeding with forward looking arrangements that are bursting with creativity while staying firmly planted in the shoes of the original tracks. Camero, one of the original musicians on the classic Machito recording, stands out as an important piece of the puzzle, connecting the past to the present. His appearance does more than simply provide credibility to the performance though, it pushes the students to excel; they do so with style and then proceed to push back with an enthusiastic passion. This give and take results in dazzling performances that range from stunningly executed band passages to inspiring improvisations and unforgettable rhythm section work. Janer, Norris, Taylor, and Edwards emerge as young jazz voices to watch with the rest of the band drives the show at an exceedingly high level. With bold mentors like Sanabria leading passionate and talented musicians like the Manhattan School of Music’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, the future of the Latin Jazz world rests in good hands; as they show on Kenya Revisited Live, they’ve got the talent and vision to bring the past, present, and future of Latin Jazz together into a unified whole.

Check Out These Related Posts:
Album of the Week: Big Band Urban Folktales, Bobby Sanabria
Revisiting Latin Jazz Classics: Tanga, Mario Bauzá and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra
Album of the Week: El Espiritu Jibaro, Roswell Rudd and Yomo Toro
Rethinking Latin Big Bands and Machito

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