Dominican Jazz Project: Desde Lejos
The best way to listen to Desde Lejos by the Dominican Jazz Project is by cranking up the volume on your stereo. As the notes of this powerful, elegantly intemperate music burst out of the speakers, you feel the honest emotion and muscularity of the phrases and long sculpted lines right in your chest and in your gut – exactly where they have been aimed at you.
Heartfelt booklet notes by the pianist of the Dominican Jazz Project – Stephen Anderson – tell us that this music was not simply a labour of love, but was birthed with a great deal of pain and loss [of the original bassist of the ensemble – Jeffry Eckels], as well as the father of the group’s prime mover and principal saxophonist – Sandy Gabriel. This very nearly tore the group apart, and were it not for the unstinting commitment of all of the musicians’ to their art – and with a great deal of leadership from Mr Anderson, who shepherded the ensemble – and the wonderful music – en route to the ultimate release of Desde Lejos.
Mr Anderson is a wonderful composer and is responsible for five of the nine pieces on this album. It is only fitting that he be congratulated for casting a giant shadow on the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic conception of the album; setting the tone for music that superbly captures the West African influences and inflections of the Taíno people, making for the unique Caribbean sound palette. Moreover, casting the resplendent rhythmic force of Dominican merengue and other dance forms in the guts of this music is a bona fide work of art. The percussionists bring the mighty clap of thunder of the tambora and the resonant rhythmic song of the congas, masterfully played and always well-matched with the music of the drummer. Meanwhile the bassists – as percussive as they are melodic – also add a harmonic glue to the rhythmic wall, together with the masterfully executed pianism of Mr Anderson.
The degree of extended exultation in this music – from “Fuera de la Oscuridad” onwards – is its main strength. It is characterised by mighty surges unleashed by the piano, bass and percussion. The saxophone power of Sandy Gabriel’s horns is monumental and matches the power of the rest of the thunderous music with equal parts eloquence and near-physical thrust. The addition of Rahsaan Barber on tenor saxophone [on “Ritmos de Baní”] makes for a marvelous horn choir. The same is true of the three pieces featuring the outstanding trumpeter Mayquel González. Within [the music in question] tensions build and subside, colours darken and reignite in giant arcs of music.
This spectacular music feast lasts over one hour and ends in the mighty finale of an authentic jam on “Un Cambio de Ritmos”, which is a showpiece for Mr Gabriel, Mr Anderson and the rest of the stellar cast. Meanwhile Carlos Luis stars in the wonderfully dolorous and heartrending vocal of “Una Más”. But in the end it is percussionists Guy Frómeta, David Almengod and Juan Álamo that bring the rolling thunder to this repertoire, along with bassists Ramón Vásquez Martirena, Craig Butterfield and Jason Foureman.
This is a fabulous recording; a tribute not only to the musicians playing on it, but to the music of the Americas that inspired it all. If these musicians are ever scheduled to perform where you live, then run – don’t walk – to buy your tickets to the performance. And if the octogenerian Guillo Carias is on stage with the ensemble, then you’re in for a special treat, the tase of which can be experienced on “Como un Rayo Ciego”, “Si Tú Supieras” and “Pero Aún No es el Fin”.
Track list – 1: Fuera de la Oscuridad; 2: Ritmos de Baní; 3: Sin Palabras; 4: Como un Rayo Ciego; 5: Si Tú Supieras; 6: Pero Aún No es el Fin; 7: Siempre Adelante; 8: Una Más; 9: Un Cambio de Ritmo
Personnel – Sandy Gabriel: saxophones; Rahsaan Barber: tenor saxophone ; Mayquel González: trumpet [5 – 7]; Guillo Carias: clavietta [2, 4 – 6]; Carlos Luis: guitar and voice [4, 5]; Stephen Anderson: piano and accordion [2, 3]; Ramón Vásquez Martirena: contrabass, baby bass and electric bass ; Craig Butterfield: contrabass [1, 5]; Jason Foureman: contrabass ; Guy Frómeta: drums; David Almengod: percussion, voice; Juan Álamo: percussion [3, 4]; Marc Callahan: coro 
Released – 2021
Label – Summit Records [DCD 785]
Runtime – 1:13:33