Jerome Robbins’ seminal story of danger and the triumph of love, West Side Story inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet has been told on Broadway for seven hundred and thirty-two shows, went on tour, enjoyed celebrated performances in London and has been made into a film that won ten out of twelve Oscars for which it was nominated. Its music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim is among the most recognisable wherever music is heard. However, none of the performances might have quite the poignancy as this version recorded live at Jazz at Lincoln Center by the incomparable Bobby Sanabria and the Multiverse Big Band. The reason is here for all to see, hear and enjoy.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · West Side Story Reimagined
While the inspiration for West Side Story may be Shakespearean, the plot and its context is uniquely American – relevant both at the time of its writing and today. It concerns two rival teenage gangs, the Jets (White Americans) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican Americans), struggle for control of their neighborhood on the Upper West Side of New York City and at the heart is the focus on the conflict between an Irish Catholic family (the Jets) and a Puerto Rican Jewish family (the Sharks) living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, during the Easter–Passover season. The girl has survived the Holocaust and emigrated from Israel; the conflict was to be centered on anti-Semitism of the Catholic “Jets” towards the Jewish “Emeralds” (a name that made its way into the script as a reference). Social inequality in America is like a gaping wound today with anti-Semitism becoming more insidious today.
More importantly the tension between the Puerto Rican community and the American colonial government under its 45th President has deteriorated to a desperate low after Hurricane Maria. In this context there seems to be no one better to re-imagine the dark elements of West Side Story in this new context and yet retain the uplifting message than Mr Sanabria, a musician and larger-than-life character cut in the same mold as Larry Kert or Richard Beymer, or Chita Rivera or Rita Moreno; original cast members.
And Mr Sanabria does not disappoint – not for one breathtaking moment. Chanting, commentating, narrating and egging the musicians of his Multiverse Big Band on as if they were all members of a Broadway production, Mr Sanabria brings Leonard Bernstein’s glorious music, (Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics) and, indeed Jerome Robbins’ original story to life once again, this time, with music that weaves in and out of the authentic Latin-Jazz flavour of El Barrio, and the iconic imagery of Mr Bernstein’s Americana. The arrangements and direction are born of Mr Bernstein and the ghosts of the great Afro-Caribbean ancestors in Mr Sanabria’s heritage.
And while the language remains true to Mr Bernstein’s idiomatic writing, the new inflection and articulation is pure, vivid Bobby Sanabria. Music such as “America”, “Maria” and “Somewhere” have become wholly new expressions in the classic mould of Mr Sanabria’s original work. Soloists such as Chris Washburne, heard on bass trombone and a blistering electric violin solo by Ben Sutin perform with memorable emotion.
The pacing of the work is sublime and ends in a rousing crescendo broken up with a short and poignant interjection by Mr Sanabria, who sets the new context for this West Side Story (Reimagined) by calling out the hatred fostered by the current US government as well as paying tribute to the original composer of this music, the inimitable Leonard Bernstein.
Track List – Disc One – Act One – 1: Intro; 2: Prologue; 3: Intro Jet Song; 4: Jet Song; 5: Intro America; 6: America; 7: Gee, Officer Krupke Intro; 8: Gee, Officer Krupke; 9: Tonight; 10: Gym Scene – Blues/Mambo; 11: Gym Scene – Cha Cha Cha. Disc Two – Act Two – 1: Maria; 2: Intro Cool; 3: Cool; 4: The Rumble /Rumba; 5: One Hand, One Heart; 6: Somewhere; 7: Intro Epilogue/Finale; 8: Epilogue/Finale; 9: Outro
Personnel – Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band – Trumpets: Kevin Bryan (lead, opening whistle), Shareef Clayton, Max Darché, Andrew Neesley, Saxophones: David Dejesus: lead alto and soprano, flute; Andrew Gould: alto and flute; Peter Brainin: tenor and flute; Yaacov Mayman: tenor, flute and clarinet; Danny Rivera: baritone; Trombones: David Miller (lead), Tim Sessions, Armando Vergara, Chris Washburne (bass trombone); Flute and Piccolo: Gabrielle Garo; Electric Violin: Ben Sutin; Rhythm Section: Bobby Sanabria: musical director, drumset, cowbells, police whistle, samba whistle and lead vocals; Darwin Noguera: piano; Leo Traversa: electric bass; Oreste Abrantes: congas, itotele batá drum and second voice (Disc Two – Act Two – 1); Matthew González: bongó/cencerro, primo bomba drum, Iyá batá, requinto pandereta, ganza and Dominican güira; Takeo Heisho: claves, Cuban güiro macho, cencerro, Puerto Rican guicharo, okonkolo batá drum, maracas (Cuban and Venezuelan), shekere, tamborine, cuica, pandeiro, triangle, gong and police siren. Background vocals: all the members of the Multiverse Big Band
Released – 2018
Label – Jazzheads
Runtime Disc One 43:19 Disc Two 36:17