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Essential Albums

Bobby Sanabria Big Band: Live & in Clave

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Photograph courtesy Jan Sileo

Sixteen years ago Bobby Sanabria took his Big Band on the road and when they were in Birdland on May 20 in 1999, the indefatigable leader recorded the concert that produced this explosive record. Now Bobby Sanabria is known for his fiery energy as a drummer but he is also one of the most elegant and accomplished percussion colourists in the Afro-Cuban idiom. Bobby Sanabria was also the one who said that without Tito Puente there would be no Latin Jazz but truth be told, without Bobby Sanabria, Latin Jazz would not have had as celebrated visceral energy yesterday and today. It’s as simple as that. He plays fast like a bat out of hell but can also play soft as this wonderful and iconic record Bobby Sanabria Big Band Afro-Cuban Dream – Live & in Clave showcases.

Bobby Sanabria Big Band - Live & In ClaveThe Big Band, in 1999, comprised such extraordinary musicians as alto and soprano saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer, bassist Boris Kozlov, trumpeter Michael Phillip Mossman, trombonist Chris Washburne, tenor saxophonist John Stubblefield and of course, the great conguero Cándido Camero, who played a monumental role on a seminal version of “Manteca”. However Mr. Sanabria’s Big Band also has some fine musicians in tenor saxophonist Jay Collins and the wonderful pianist John di Martino. What is extraordinary about this band is that it rivals the primeval excitement of even the greatest Latin Jazz big bands of any era and this disc proves it beyond any doubt. Purists might balk at the wild nature of the Afro-Cuban music that is played here but the intense performance is as reminiscent of the rhythms of Africa melded into those of Cuba.

The repertoire is also key to the majesty of this disc. The programme displays all of the diversity of a Latin American rainforest, both in terms of instrumentation and style. Even “Donna Lee” gets the extraordinary Afro-Cuban Jazz treatment and it is quite spectacular. The mixture of Western polyphony with some profoundly beautiful Afro-Cuban polyrhythms is illuminating and unexpectedly rewarding. The band culled from various musical sensibilities does yeoman service to the repertoire. The music is continuously catchy, evocative and melodic. You might say that this is everything that should be expected from a live performance, but even the best of them do not match the magnificent manner in which this diverse band has been rehearsed for that memorable evening.

Nevertheless, this is very much Bobby Sanabria’s record. His performance throughout has a tightness of organisation that is genuinely composerly. Driven forwards by the thunderous timpani motifs that torch swirling, tearing-it-up percussion cadenzas in each of the charts, Bobby Sanabria’s rhythmic stride ignites the whole work. It feels satisfyingly unified; idiom-perfect performance too. The result is less a Paella Mixta than a true symphony of hearts and minds built on the cantus firmus of Bobby Sanabria’s almost fiendishly brilliant musicianship.

Track List: The Opening – a: Praise t the Creator & Ancestors; b: In the Time of the Colony; c: Telemina; Mosscode; Angel Eyes; Nuyorican Son; Olokún/Yemayá; Adios Mario; The Troubadours; Donna Lee; Manteca.

Personnel: Bobby Sanabria: drums, akpwón and morua vocals, and musical director; Wilson “Chembo” Corniel: congas; Roberto Quintero: bongo and cencerro, and shékere; Hiram “El Pava” Remon: maracas, güiro macho, shékere and vocals; John di Martino: piano; Boris Kozlov: acoustic bass and electric bass (9); Karolina Strassmayer: alto and soprano saxophones and vocals; Gene Jefferson: alto saxophone, guataca and vocals; Peter Brainin: tenor saxophone; Jay Collins: tenor and soprano saxophones, and pre-Columbian flute; Ricardo Pons: baritone saxophone, shékere and vocals; Michael Phillip Mossman: trumpet; John Walsh: trumpet and vocals; Tim Quimette: trumpet; Tanya Darby: trumpet; Dr. Chris Washburne: trombone, clave, guataca and vocals; Barry Olsen: trombone, guataca and vocals; Joe Fiedler: trombone; Don Levine: bass trombone; Rick Alarie: drum technician; John Stubblefield: tenor saxophone (4, 5 & 9); Cándido Camero: congas (9).

Label: Arabesque
Recorded: May 1999
Website: bobbysanabria.com
Running time: 1:07:24
Buy music on: amazon

About Bobby Sanabria

Bobby Sanabria – drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, recording artist, producer, filmmaker, conductor, educator, activist, multi-cultural warrior and multiple Grammy nominee – has performed with a veritable Who’s Who in the world of jazz and Latin music, as well as with his own critically acclaimed ensembles. His diverse recording and performing experience includes work with such legendary figures as Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Charles McPherson, Mongo Santamaría, Ray Barretto, Marco Rizo, Arturo Sandoval, Roswell Rudd, Chico O’Farrill, Candido, Yomo Toro, Francisco Aguabella, Larry Harlow, Henry Threadgill, and the Godfather of Afro-Cuban Jazz, Mario Bauzá. Read more…

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Essential Albums

Azymuth: Telecommunications

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This album, Telecommunications, is one of the most iconic recordings by Azymuth, the ineffably funky Brasilian trio. When it was released – on the Milestone label in 1982 – it became a monumental hit, propelling the group, it went Gold and exploded into the Top 10 in the British Charts, soaring heavenward in popularity all over Europe too.

It’s not hard to understand the extraordinary popularity of Azymuth. First and foremost has to be the unmatched funkiness of all the musicians who made up the original trio: keyboards superstar, vocalist and percussionist José Roberto Bertrami, who sadly passed away on July 8th 1012, Ivan Mamão Conti, who just has to be considered one of the most funky drummers since Zigaboo Modeliste, [who practically invented funk drumming as one of the illustrious members of the iconic New Orleans group The Meters], and bassist Alex Malherios whose rumble and roar made for the glue [together with Mamão] that solidified the rhythmic edifice of the trio, while the soloist [particularly, Bertrami] launched himself on his mighty solo flights.

Azymuth: Telecommunications
Azymuth: Telecommunications

It may have been the syncopation of choro that carried over into Brasili’s most iconic urban music and dance forms – samba, a versatile rhythm that can assume many forms. Heated up, with a shouted call-and-response verse backed by literally thousands of samba-school drums on parade, it becomes samba de enredo [the mass Carnival music that is famous the world over]. But what happens when you take the vocals out of the musical equation, funk up the rhythm, add a rumbling electric bass guitar and jazz up the rippling Brasilian percussion?

That’s when you get the funkiest music that became the clarion call of Brasilian funk music ensembles, of which Azymuth was probably the most famous, plying its stock-in-trade at all the major jazz festivals – from the Americas to Europe – Monterey to Montreux and way beyond.  The music on this seminal album, Telecommunications is characteristic of Azymuth at its very best. The repertoire came at a time when this heavyweight trio had reached the apogee of the musical style that continues to be a niche. A style that it had carved out for itself, with an eclectic, jazzy mix of Brasilian rhythms upon which were overlaid dallying soli by Mr Bertrami and Mamão, together with the rumbling bass of Mr Malherios.

Azymuth Trio
Azymuth Trio

Telecommunications’ opener “Estreito de Taruma” features a filing solo by the great Brasilian guitarist Helio Delmirio. The warm sonority, clean technique and penchant for spare ornamentation in his playing made him a guitarist like none other to come out of the raging flood of guitarists that cascaded out of the ocean of Brasilian music. The music that Mr Delmirio sculpted, from the steel strings at his fingertips, made the musical notes fly off the paper. His lines floated askance, oblique to the not so predictable keyboard playing by Mr Bertrami.

Throughout the two sides of this vinyl –superbly remastered by George Horn, by the way– we find music that is a testament to the musicians’ [and composers’] boundless invention. This music is replete with a wide expressive range and technical challenges, not to mention the fact that once all of the musicians have had their say, a musical structure is constructed that defies logic, convention and other well-worn stylistic hooks. So monumental is the music’s cachet. Mr Bertrami’s “Last Summer in Rio” and the wistful finale – “The House I Lived In” [together with its “Prelude” – as a finale, no less] is typical of the brooding, tumbling groove that Azymuth created for itself – a sound so unique among [any] other musicians from the 1970’s onward, is yet to be imitated, copied or otherwise reproduced by Brasilian artists other than Azymuth.

YouTube Playlist

Tracks – Side A – 1: Estreito de Taruma; 2: What Price Samba [Quanta Vale um Samba]; 3: Country Road [Chão de Terra]; 4: May I Have This Dance? [Concede me Esto Dança?]. Side B – 1: Nothing Will Be As It Was [Nada Sera Como Antes]; 2: Last Summer in Rio; 3: The House I Lived In [A Casa em Que Vivi]; Prelude

Musicians – José Roberto Bertrami: organ [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1-3], keyboards [Side A 2, 4; Side B 1, 2], vocoder [Side A 3, 4], vocal [Side A 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1]; Alex Malherios: electric bass [Side A 1, 4; Side B 2], fretless bass [Side A 2, 3; Side B 2]; bass guitar [Side A 4], and acoustic guitar [Side A 3]; Ivan Mamão Conti: drums [Side A 1, 2, 4; Side B 1, 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 3]; Special Guests – Helio Delmirio:  electric guitar [Aide A 1; Side B 2]; Aleuda: percussion [Side A 3, 4; Side B 1]; Dotô: repique [Side A 2]; Cidinho: percussion [Side B 2]

Released – 1982
Remastered and Released (vinyl) – 2022
Label – Milestone [1982]
Jazz Dispensary – [2022]
Runtime – Side A 19:21 Side B 21:43  

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