Conversation with Drummer, Composer, Educator Dafnis Prieto about his Sextet Release Triangles and Circles (Dafnison Music 2015)
Tomas Peña: I recently received a copy of Triangles and Circles, I can’t stop listening!
Dafnis Prieto: Thank you! Triangles and Circles, is the sextet’s second album and my sixth as a leader. I set out to recapture the sextet sound because the way I write for the sextet is vastly different from the way I write for other projects. I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
The first album with the sextet is, Taking the Soul For a Walk (2008).
We made the recording after a one-week engagement at the Jazz Standard, so we played the material a lot before we went into the studio. You can hear it in the interpretation and the way the music sounds so relaxed. This is a dream band because all of the members are fantastic top-of-the-line players who opened themselves up in order to capture the meaning of each tune and personalize it with their individual personalities.
What’s the significance of the title, Triangles and Circles?
The title emphasizes the tune, Triangles and Circles and the idea of playing with forms. I’ve always been fascinated by shapes, forms, triangles, circles. On the one hand they are the most antagonistic forms you can imagine, on the other, you can fit a triangle into a circle and vice-versa. Musically, I tried to represent that in the songs, the tone, and the way I approached the material compositionally. Even though I’m a drummer, I’m very fond of melody. For me, melody is as important as rhythm, so I wanted to emphasize that by composing powerful melodies.
Tell me about the repertoire.
It’s like a book with different chapters. Every song stands on its own, and each has its story. For example, the tune, Back and Forth is about the back and forth in our lives, the ups, downs, and persistence.
Flores is dedicated to my friend and colleague, bassist Charles Flores. I composed the tune one week after he passed away. Also, I originally composed the tune for the double bass but the melody was so beautiful that I end up doing an arrangement for the sextet. It is dedicated to his memory and the time that we spent together personally and professionally.
The Evil in You is about the evilness we deal with in our daily lives. It’s dedicated to the evil that we experience in the world, from different sources.
Blah Blah and Blah Blah Blah is a song in two parts, dedicated to the cultural and musical relationship between Cuba and New Orleans. Blah Blah represents Cuba; Blah Blah Blah represents New Orleans.
Two For One is dedicated to the Cuban culture. Somehow this is a very Cuban sounding tune, it’s another tune that is a song in two parts, thus the title.
Opening just sounded to me like an opening tune, even though I put it in the end. Sometimes we have the preconceived notion that an opening has to be at the beginning, but an opening can be at the end. So that was the idea, to have that kind of “openness” at the end of the album.
Tell me about the members of the sextet.
I’m grateful to these amazing musicians for participating in the recording and for capturing my ideas. Their interpretations of my tunes are spot on. I’ve been working with Peter Apfelbaum and Manuel Valera for over a decade, and they’ve participated in some of my other projects such as the Si O Si Quartet and the sextet’s previous recording. Mike Rodriguez, Felipe Lamoglia, and Johannes Weidenmueller sound great on this recording, and they all contributed a great deal to this music.
When will Triangles and Circles be released? Is there a CD Release Party in the works?
Yes, the CD Release Party will be held at the Jazz Standard on September 18th, 19th and the 20th. Prior to that we will perform at the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco on June 13th.
In Conversation with “Drum Poet” Pazcual Villaronga
PAZCUAL VILLARONGA was born and raised in Spanish Harlem, New York. He attended Haaren High School and New York City Community College and graduated from Hunter College, earning a degree in Communications and a Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education.
Known as the “Drum Poet,” Pazcual recites poetry while accompanying himself on the congas (often joined by other musicians), creating an innovative fusion of poetry and discussion that takes his verses to a new level.
Pazcual is the recipient of the Golden and Silver Poet Awards in California and placed third in La Canción Bilingüe – The Bilingual Song Competition in Washington, D.C. He has read poetry at Columbia University, Teachers College, Hunter College, Hostos Community College, Manhattan Community College, and Connecticut’s Housatonic Community College.
His published works include the highly successful “Caracol” (Poems For The Children), “By The Music Inspired,” “Poet,” “Fire From Hell,” “Compendium,” and “Stereotypes and Cycles.” His most recent collection of poems and CD is titled “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens To Fall.” Pazcual’s work has also appeared in “Around the Mulberry Bush – An Anthology,” “Windfall – An Anthology,” and “Fahari.”
Now retired after over three decades of teaching, Pazcual is preparing several collections of poetry and a children’s book and performs with The Lehman College Latin Jazz Ensemble, directed by Victor Rendón.
TOMÁS PEÑA: Welcome, Pazcual! Tell me about the project.
PAZCUAL VILLARONGA: “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall” is my salute to the musicians and their creative souls. Also, to the percussive rhythms and melodies, they share with us each and every time they perform. Also, it is my way of sharing with the world, through poetry, how they inspire me and the power and beauty of their musical creations.
TP: Thank you for sharing an advance copy of the book and CD with me and for taking me on a fascinating bilingual literary and aural journey. Before we delve into the project, I’m curious to know what drew you to poetry and the spoken word.
PV: Growing up, I was shy and introverted. Poetry was my way of expressing myself. When I was in high school, my friend Jose showed my writings to a teacher (Dr. Richstone) and the teacher replied, “There are better things you could do with your time.” Undaunted, my friend showed my writings to another teacher (Mary Lamboss), and she said, “You are the Poet Laureate of Harren High School!” Later, I formed the “Drum Poets” and began reciting poetry with percussion and music.
TP: How did the project come about, and why did you choose this title?
PV: It began with Víctor Rendón’s “Fiesta Percusiva” (2008), where I recited the poems “Soy Chicano” and “In the Pocket.” Shortly after, Victor appeared on José “Joe” Massó’s “Con Salsa!,” who played selections from the album on the air. He encouraged me to “make more music like this.” Shortly after, Víctor asked if I was interested in pursuing the project, and I immediately said, “Yes!” Victor Rendón agreed to produce the record with the following conditions: Trust him implicitly and don’t breathe a word about it to anyone until the project is completed. The rest is history!
The title, “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall,” is inspired by trumpeter John Walsh, who composed the song “On Whatever Day of the Week Saturday Happens to Fall” (the tune appears on Chris Washburne and the Syotos Band’s “Paradise in Trouble”) and whose philosophy is, “On Whatever Day of the Week Saturday Happens to Fall, musicians must answer the call and give their all.” Walsh’s philosophy resonates with me because it applies to poets and creative souls who must be in the moment when the muse appears.
TP: The recording contains a collection of your poems set to music: Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms, Jazz, and Latin Jazz and features an impressive lineup: Víctor Rendón, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Louis Bauzo, Yasuya Kimura, Mike Viñas, Amy Quint Millan and José Luis Armengot. Additional guests include Andrea Brachfeld, Henry Brun, Ariel De La Portilla, and Roman Diaz (see below for specifics). Tell me about the poem, “Right Pocket/Left Pocket.”
PV: My mother was concerned about my dad, who drank excessively and played pool at a local social club. She asked me to check on him and bring him home. When I arrived, my father was intoxicated and staggering. Shortly after, a neighborhood hustler and “aprovechao” (exploiter) named Chano challenged my father to a game of pool. My father immediately asked me, “How much money do you have?” And demanded I give it to him. Then, miraculously, he took a breath and straightened up. After that, it was “right pocket, left pocket!” Long story short, my father and I left the social club fifty dollars richer! When Victor and I arranged the tune, he had just acquired a set of “timbalitos” (9-1/4 and 10-and 1/4 timbales), which have a very distinct sound. If you listen closely, you will hear Victor mimic the sound of the cue ball striking the billiards.
TP: Your words conjure up images. I felt like a fly on the wall! I also enjoyed the poem, “El Chembito,” where percussionist Wilson “Chembo” Corniel masterfully accompanies you.
PV: The poem was born while listening to Chembo’s solo on the tune “Lagos” which appears on Victor Rendon & the Bronx Conexion Latin Jazz Big Band’s “True Flight” (2016). I realized that in Chembo’s hands and in the hands of the masters, you feel and hear the connections between past and present and are privy to a glimpse of the future. Chembo has a way of taking you along for the ride as he time travels between rhythms, feelings, and emotions! His hands never falter, and his ideas are always fresh!
TP: The poem, “I Saw You (Tribute 4 Miles)” talks about a unique experience you shared with trumpeter José Luis Armengot onstage.
PV: Yes, Jose was standing to my right, and he was soloing on the tune “Fragile.” I turned to Jose; he was wearing dark glasses and leaning back like Miles used to, and I saw Miles! At the time, I was not aware that Jose idolized Miles. Later, I read the poem to Jose and I said, “You are Miles!”
TP: Tell me about the poem, “In the Pocket.”
PV: The poem is inspired by Omar Castaños, who said, “Some musicians express themselves and don’t say a lot. But every once in a while, you will find an artist who sits in the pocket, and everything is pushed away. I saw it happen when the masterful Luis Bauzo took a solo at “Gonzalez y Gonzalez” (NYC) in front of a packed house and stopped the room. The poem was born at that moment!
TP: The poems mentioned earlier are examples of what listeners and readers can expect. There is much more to savor! The CD and book will be released on December 1, 2022. Is there a CD Release Party or a live performance in the works?
PV: We have yet to set a specific date, but, yes, it is in the works.
TP: “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall” will be available at: http://amazon.com via https://cdbaby.com, and all the major digital streaming, and download sites (iTunes, Spotify, etc.). Also, readers can listen to and download the CD on Pazcual Villaronga’s Website: http://conceptovillapaz.com.
TP: Closing thoughts?
PV: If I have touched you with one word, phrase, or poem, I have done my job as a poet!
TP: Indeed, you have! “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall” recalls the writings of the Nuyorican poet and playwright Pedro Pietri, playwright Tato Laviera, activist, journalist, media personality Felipe Luciano, and Latina poet Sandra Maria Estevez, among others. Rarely has the spoken word, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms, and Latin Jazz come together as organically and beautifully as it does on this exciting and innovative project. Highly recommended!
1. Drummers Prayer
2. By the Music Inspired
3. In the Pocket
4. What Do You Do?
5. El Chembito
6. How Many of Us Listen?
7. Bongo Habla Otra Vez
8. Que No Se Te Olvides
9. Right Pocket/Left Pocket
10. On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall
11. I Saw You (Tribute 4 Miles)
12. Alma Jibarita
13. Puerto Rican Trilogy
14. Puerto Rican Trilogy
15. Puerto Rican Trilogy
16. Speak Easy
17. Soul Riffs
18. Entendian Voz
19. Another Night in Tunisia
20. En Las Manos de Los Maestros
21. Afro, Is That You?
22. Now and Then
THE NEW DRUM POETS
Pazcual Villaronga – Executive Producer, Poetic Voz, Conga and Shekeré
Víctor Rendón – Producer, Drum Set, Timbales, Pailitas, Shekeré, Batá (Okonkolo), Coro
Wilson “Chembo” Corniel – Congas, Batá (Itótele), Guataca, Coro
Louis Bauzo – Bongos, Congas, Barril (Primo), Batá (Iyá), Bonkó Enchemiyá, Güícharo Puertorriqueño, Coro
Yasuya Kimura – Congas, Bongos, 1st and 2nd Cajón, Maraca, Coro
Michael Viñas– Bass
Amy Quint Millan – Piano, Coro
José Luis Armengot – Trumpet
- Andrea Brachfeld – Flute
- Henry Brun – Conga, Shaker
- Ariel de la Portilla Acoustic Bass
- Roman Diaz (Batá and Various Percussion)
- Diego Lopez (Batá and Various Percussion)
- Allan Molnar First Marimba
- Yumi Suehiro Second Marimba
LEFT TO RIGHT: Pazcual Villaronga, Yasuyo Kimura, Louis Bauzo, Víctor Rendón, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel.
POETRY BY PAZCUAL VILLARONGA
- COMPENDIUM (1991)
- POETRY (1995)
- BY THE MUSIC INSPIRED (2002)
- FIRE FROM HELL (2004)
- CARACOL – P0EMS FOR CHILDREN (2009)
- ON WHATEVER DAY SATURDAY HAPPENS TO FALL (2022)
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