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Joe McCarthy’s New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band to Release ‘The Pan American Nutcracker Suite’

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Joe McCarthy's New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band

If you think Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s remarkable, 1960 interpretation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet, The Nutcracker, is the final jazz word on the popular orchestral work, think again.

Performed by drummer/leader Joe McCarthy’s New York Afro Bop Alliance Big BandThe Pan American Nutcracker Suite is what ‘60s Mad Men would’ve branded a “travelogue in sound.” Expressed in riveting arrangements, acutely brilliant solos, and McCarthy’s inventive arrangements and powerfully evocative drumming, The Pan American Nutcracker Suite is an aural tour de force, an all-encompassing, immersive sound experience.

Afro Bop Alliance Big Band - The Pan American Nutcracker Suite
Afro Bop Alliance Big Band: The Pan American Nutcracker Suite

Nine McCarthy-led recordings preceded The Pan American Nutcracker Suite, including Caribbean Jazz Project/Afro Bop Alliance featuring Dave Samuels, winner of the Latin Jazz Album Grammy of 2008. The album was also nominated in the Latin Jazz category at the 2009 Grammy Awards.

“I knew that I could come up with something that had not been done before,” McCarthy said of The Pan American Nutcracker Suite. “I was certain that no one would play it this way. I’m classically trained; in my earlier life I played the piece a billion times. But this was going to be entirely different.”

Earlier McCarthy projects include Encarnación, Una Más, Camino Nuevo, and Angel Eyes, recorded by McCarthy’s Afro Bop Alliance. Upwards and Revelation followed–McCarthy and NYABA albums which set the stage for The Pan American Nutcracker Suite.

“I did an enormous amount of study and preparation for The Pan American Nutcracker Suite,” McCarthy continued. “My job was to honor Tchaikovsky, but also make the music true to a certain sound I was hearing. We drew on influences from Venezuela, from traditional Chinese drumming, from New Orleans. In one movement we swing out of respect to Duke’s version, but we didn’t copy anything. We’re able to transport people to a different place.”

The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band includes some of the finest players in jazz. Session conductor Vince Norman led Nick Marchione, John Chudoba, Brandon Lee, and Alex Norris, trumpets; followed by Andrew Gould, lead alto saxophone; Alejandro Aviles, alto saxophone; Ben Kono and Luis Hernandez, tenor saxophones; and Frank Basile, baritone saxophone. Mark PattersonRyan Keberle, and John Yao played trombones, James Borowski, bass trombone. McCarthy, of course, handled drums, while directing the rhythm section of Luis Perdomo, piano; Vinny Valentino, guitar; Boris Kozlov, bass; and Samuel Torres, percussion.

A brilliant instructor and academic, McCarthy is foremost, a performer. This Nutcracker is like nothingyou’ve heard before: primed with power, soothed with subtlety, graced by nuance, recited by McCarthy’s outstanding 18-man big band. Based on Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, The Pan American Nutcracker Suite opens with “Overture.”

“Built on a groove known as ‘Afro,’” says McCarthy, “this movement gets the ball rolling as to how we ‘heard’ this iconic masterpiece, including a brilliant solo from trumpeter Alex Norris.”

“March” begins with “the famous snare drum part from Bolero and quickly moves into mambo,” McCarthy notes. “Then into straight ahead jazz. A melting pot, for sure.”

McCarthy describes his version of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” as “cha cha meets 6/8, with a touch of adventure in the ensemble writing.”

Introduced via a kinetic McCarthy/Torres percussion break, “Trepak” is a storm-bringer, a tumultuous arrangement that enchants and drives. The intro drum break sets a mambo mood, morphing into 6/8, followed by scorching solos all around.

Gil Evans gets a nod on the dreamlike “Arabian Dance,” its tranquil mood recalling Evans/Davis’ classic Sketches of Spain, and the arranger’s landmark Out of the Cool. Beauty meets simplicity and nuance in McCarthy’s mystery-inducing arrangement and NYABA’s exquisite soloing.

McCarthy opens “Chinese Dance” with bizarre hammering sounds. “Traditional Chinese drumming–that’s what my opening solo drum statement is based on,” he explained. “The groove and vibe bring a retro attitude. I was fiddling with metallic sounds, that stayed on the record.”

“Now we’re off to South America!” McCarthy says of the equally relaxing and exhilarating “Dance of the Reed Flutes.” “This was inspired by the rhythms of Brazil, including a partido alto with a bit of funk and great colors from guitarist Vinny Valentino and amazing lead trumpet Nick Marchione.” Resistance is futile, the sizzling rhythm section propelling dynamic brass and guitar work.

A balm, a mellow groove, a lilting send-off that Duke, Billy, and Pyotr would’ve undoubtedly dug, “Waltz of the Flowers” closes The Pan American Nutcracker Suite.

“It’s inspired by the Venezuelan groove, Joropo,” McCarthy explains, “set up perfectly by Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo. The accents of the groove fall on beats 2 and 3, which give it a lift. Vinny solos on acoustic guitar–the perfect flavor. Beautiful woodwind doubling by our sax section and ensemble playing throughout.”

Downbeat Magazine hailed Joe McCarthy, writing “The Afro-Bop Alliance Big Band, captained by drummer Joe McCarthy, occupies a singular spot in the timeline of Afro-Cuban ensembles, at once a torchbearer of the genre’s storied history and also one of its fiercest innovators.”

The Pan American Nutcracker Suite confirms Joe McCarthy’s vision: reinventing the past for the present, transporting the listener beyond.

Content Source: DL Media Music

Founder, Editor, Webmaster: Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report, That Canadian Magazine. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

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New Releases

Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band to release new recording: “Vox Humana”

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Drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria
Drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria

Celebrating 25 years! The multi-Grammy nominated Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is set to release their new recording: “Vox Humana” featuring vocalists Janis Siegel, Antoinette Montague, Jennifer Jade Ledesna.

Recorded Live at Dizzy’s Club Cola in NYC
Release Date: Spring 2023
Record Label: Jazzheads

New York – January 18th – On the heels of their Grammy nominated and 2019 Jazz Journalists Association Album of the Year Award winning critically acclaimed masterwork, West Side Story Reimagined, and in celebration of their 25th anniversary – drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria and his Multiverse Big Band return with their most ambitious work to date, VOX HUMANA.

Bobby states, “Over the course of our many Grammy nominated albums we’ve occasionally featured tracks with vocals. But I’ve always envisioned doing an entire vocal album framed by the Multiverse Big Band. Now with three of today’s greatest contemporary singing talents – multi-Grammy award winner Janis Siegel from the Manhattan Transfer, blues and jazz Queen Antoinette Montague, and the multilingual powerhouse, Jennifer Jade Ledesna, today that vision has finally become a reality.

The individually distinct voices that Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer possess make them each unique. But the X factor they all have is they are all masterful improvisors in the best sense of the jazz tradition. Added to the mix is our great conguero, Oreste Abrantes, who also sings lead on two tracks. Having that multi- dimensional vocal talent framed by the power, nuance, and tonal variety that only a big band can provide, combined with the repertoire I’ve chosen to showcase them and the band and the incredible variety of Afro- Latin, straight ahead swing, funk, R&B, and rock rhythmic vocabulary that we are masters of and readily have at our disposal in the Multiverse, I believe VOX HUMANA will prove to be our greatest achievement. 

Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band: "Vox Humana"
Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band: “Vox Humana”

That repertoire has a personal meaning to me as I see VOX HUMANA as a biographical work. I’m a product of my environment. I’m a Nuyorican, a person of Puerto Rican descent growing up in New York City. In my case the South Bronx during a time period when pop, jazz, R&B, rock, funk, and Latin music of all kinds all co-existed as equals. It was the last era when the big bands of masters like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Don Ellis, and more were in the public eye, and they became my heroes. Vocalists who could deliver a message with subtlety, nuance, and when needed, power, were called upon to deliver poetry crafted by genius song writers. You’ll hear all that and more through the soaring vocals and improv talents of Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer, along with Oreste, as well as the incredible jazz-oriented arrangements and exciting Pan Afro-Latin rhythms played by a big band that literally takes no prisoners when it hits the stage.”

The repertoire Bobby speaks of includes 1 original and 12 unique re-workings of pop hits like Spooky, Christine Aguilera’s Genie In a Bottle, and Steely Dan’s Do It Again; NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri’s, Mi Congo and Puerto Rico along with the island’s greatest composer, Rafael Hernandez’s, Capullito De Aleli; the classic Joe Cuba R&B bolero, To Be With You; Brazilian standards Partido Alto and Amazonas; and from the world of Broadway theater, I Love You Porgy, and the iconic jump blues, Let The Good Times Roll. The CD also includes an original message bearing piece, Who Taught You That, as well as what may possibly be the most exciting interpretation of the Ellington associated classic, Caravan, and that has ever been recorded. 

Adding to the excitement of the performance, VOX HUMANA was recorded in front of a live audience. Bobby states, “As with our previous work, we recorded VOX HUMANA live at NYC’s Dizzy’s Club Coca – Cola. My musicians represent NYC’s finest. That means they’re the greatest in the world. The added level of excitement created by the audience inspired us in the MULTIVERSE Big Band to a heightened new level of performance virtuosity that listeners will hear explode out of the speakers just as the audience at Dizzy’s experienced in person.”

The history of the Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is indeed one based on his rich multi-cultural heritage as a Nuyorican growing up in New York City’s South Bronx. His concept of having a big band that has no genre boundaries with limitless possibilities was forged 25 years ago back in 1998. It has yielded a series of groundbreaking, critically acclaimed albums that have all been Grammy-nominated with the band thrilling audiences worldwide at venues like the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, The Ravinia Festival, Verona Jazz Festival in Europe, and more.

Content Source: Two for the Show Media

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