Bobby Sanabria and
In the world
of Caribbean based music--especially when speaking about instrumentation
and implementation of such music--even as understood by those
that are more familiar with the intricacies of Afro-Cuban rhythm--the
drumset, conga drum and/or percussion instruments are a pivotal
element in the proliferation and establishment of Latin Jazz.
Essentially, the percussive polyrhythmic side of Latin Jazz can
be considered both simplistic in nature and complex in its application.
This is especially apparent in the musical work of New York based
drummer Bobby Sanabria and his affinity toward Latin rhythm.
Sanabria is a highly intellectual musician both as a player
and educator. His depth of understanding of Afro-Cuban rhythm--in
particular, as applied to the drumset--is very commendable. Born
and raised in the South Bronx, New York City of Puerto Rican
parents, Bobby Sanabria felt an inclination toward music at an
early age. Some early musical influences included drummers Buddy
Rich, Gene Krupa and Louis Bellson. As a teen, he would be expose
to a booming culture in which Latin music was still evolving
trying to find an identity in mainstream America.
Later, young Sanabria would earn a B.M. in Applied music in
1979 from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since then,
he would go on to perform with some of the top names in Jazz
including Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, Larry
Harlow and Mario Bauza. Bobby would also lead his own ensemble
called Ascensions releasing his first CD in 1993 titled "NYC
Ache." His more recent work includes a CD titled "Afro-Cuban
Dream - Live & In Clave" recorded live at the famous
Birdland which earned him a Grammy nomination.
Currently, Sanabria is on the faculties of The New School
and The Manhattan School of Music, as well as continuing to perform
and conduct Latin Jazz workshops throughout the United States
and abroad. Recently, Bobby performed at the Dominican Republic
Jazz Festival, and the Havana Jazz Festival in Cuba. His latest
self-titled studio recording with his "Quarteto Ache"
is a far departure from his previous work with the big band.
Even so, Sanabria is accompanied by his regular core of talented
sidemen including Jay Collins on saxes and flutes, John di Martino
on piano and vocals and Boris Kozlov on acoustic bass.
Bobby and his musicians embark on a mission of exploration
touching on past and mainstream Jazz rhythm. This CD contains
9 songs, including two classic Dizzy Gillespie compositions titled
"Shaw 'Nuff" and "Bebop", both representing
a time and place in the development of Afro-Cuban Jazz in the
1940's. Bobby also presents three original compositions including
"Blue", "Child's Walk" and "El Trane."
Other songs include "Ebb & Flow" by saxman Jay
Collins and pianist John Di Martino's "Aum."
There's no question Sanabria and his Jazzmen are high caliber
musicians. However, as a group, Quarteto Ache is a prime example
of conflicting individual styles. Like Jazz, the application
of music either through melody or improvisation to Latin rhythm
is one that requires authentic interpretation, specific nuances
and interaction from all musicians involved--the core principals
that makes Latin Jazz a style of its own.
Saxophonist Jay Collins has ample technique on his instrument.
However, when performing Latin Jazz, Collins suffers from the
Parker/Coltrane syndrome: plenty of chops but no sense of authenticity
in his interpretation of Latin Jazz. Even his sense of harmonic
rhythm is very predictable attempting to integrate cliché
licks within a style of music that requires a more organic African-based
Boris Kazlov demonstrates some good skill on the bass. He
does his best to keep up with Sanabria's driving style but he's
easily left behind and most often almost buried by the drums.
On the first track "Shaw 'Nuff", Sanabria goes in one
direction and he goes the opposite never really establishing
a steady groove. Another section of this tune, Sanabria drops
out and the bass and piano are left alone in what appears to
be the beginning of a piano solo amid a swing groove. Everything
is grooving nicely until Bobby comes back in at an even faster
tempo, leaving the bass and piano scrambling to catch up. Needless
to say, the groove goes out the door.
Not easily swayed by his surroundings, pianist John di Martino
maintains a lyrical approach throughout. It is apperent that
he's a formidable musician capable of performing in a variety
of Jazz settings. His touch on the piano is soft and immaculate.
Although he tries to cut loose on a solo on track 7; but to no
avail, Sanabria is right on top of every note he plays with his
loud and ponderous ride symbal--a lack of sensitivity toward
Bobby Sanabria's playing style is fluid. However, there's
a clear lack of compatibility between Sanabria's style and his
musicians especially when performing Latin Jazz, oftentimes sounding
overpowering. Also, prominent in Sanabria's playing style is
his compulsion to over accentuate a multitude of hits and rim
shots and over usage of symbals, most often not allowing the
other musicians to breath within the composition and taking away
from the groove. This may explain in part why the individual
contributions of the other musicians accompanying Sanabria on
this CD in many instances sound remote and secluded. His pyrotechnics
on the drums are so overbearing that it is constantly overshadowing
what the other musicians are doing. Part of the reason for this
is that the overall final mix of this CD has the drums too much
in the forefront; for the most part, drowning out the bass and
piano; and as a result, forgetting that the piano and bass are
also part of the "rhythm" section and play an integral
part in the mechanics and creation of Latin Jazz.
The most effective use of Afro-Cuban rhythms within the construct
of Jazz is when they are felt (not heard) as part of an interactive
unification of all instruments involved, creating an equal balance
with the harmonic elements. Moreover, when speaking about the
relationship between the drums, piano and bass, these instruments
have very specific roles in Latin Jazz--different parts but working
together, accentuating its unique interpretation and idiosyncrasies
that define the style (clave). In other words, since all of these
instruments essentially emphasize the rhythm in some form or
another, it is always advantageous to apply the golden rule when
performing Latin Jazz--especially within a Jazz quartet lineup:
less is more.
In today's music scene, Sanabria's drum style would probably
be considered a good example of how widely misplaced the drumset
can become in Latin Jazz. For one thing, today's drumset musician
has much more equipment to hit on (multiple tumb tombs, an array
of crash and splash symbals, etc.). As a result, drummers tend
to overplay; in many instances, the rhythm section becomes a
blur whipping out what the other musicians are doing. Also, there
is the tendency, especially in the studio, to put a microphone
on every single part of the drumset. This can come back to haunt
the recording--as is the case with this CD--if the drums are
not properly mixed down with the rest of the music. But, when
it comes to this CD, it seems that in general, Sanabria makes
very poor choices as to where and when to use certain rhythms
on the drums whether it is swing or Latin Jazz. It seems that
the CD was recorded on the run.
No doubt, Bobby Sanabria's aggressive style especially when
it comes to Latin Jazz would benefit greatly with the company
of other musicians more compatible with his excessive technical
prowess. Otherwise, he might consider toning down the drum fireworks
and attempt to blend better with these musicians. Another option
would be to scale down his drumset to the most essential parts:
snare, one ride symbal, highhat and a cow bell.
review by John Davis
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