Michel Camilo is the most celebrated son of the Dominican Republic – culturally at any rate. But far away in the great halls of the University of Northern Colorado is Socrates Garcia, titular head of Music Technology. This is a rather obscure title for a doctor of music, and more than that, a guitarist, composer, arranger and conductor of the University of Northern Colorado Latin Jazz Band. It is these fine players , augmented by a remarkable group of musicians from the Dominican Republic, who have formed this Latin Jazz Orchestra, musicians who have performed Garcia’s music on Back Home. This performance includes Garcia’s ambitious extended piece, Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra.
There have been many albums performed by university students not only from the US, but from other parts of the world. What sets this band apart is its ability to read the very complex scores of Garcia’s music. They are difficult, requiring great concentration because of the Palos, Atabales and the relatively unexplored Bachata traditional forms that have been melded into the jazz – and, at times, rock – aspects of the compositions. Most challenging of all is the great speed at which this music must be played and the rapidity of the rhythmic changes as well as its demanding melodic twists and turns. These, therefore, are musicians who must be extremely well-schooled. But what about musical invention and the ability to improvise on chord changes? The proof of that is in the soli that inform all of the pieces. There is precious little space to name all of the soloists. You must buy the disc and refer to the back of the inlay card for that. There is no praise high enough for them.
But one musician gets mentioned briefly in Garcia’s notes and only in the personnel listing. She is the drummer, Helen De La Rosa. Not only has De La Rosa been assigned a role seemingly tucked between the woodwinds, brass and the rest of the rhythm section, but she has to share percussion duties with the percussionists, the Bachata drummers from the Dominican Republic. What she does with her trap set is truly remarkable. Nestling cheek-by-jowl with the Dominican drummers De La Rosa carves out a space for herself. She is erudite, plays with extraordinary precision and yet invents rhythmic figures behind and ahead of the complex beat. Drumming like this is worthy of notice. Listen to her on Back Home and throughout the Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra. (Not that she is not brilliant in the rest of the repertoire), but in these pieces De La Rosa give a fine account of herself.
Celebration of the Butterflies is a gorgeous piece and must share the honours with the Dominican Suite. Socrates Garcia’s notes describe the antecedents of the composition. I do not normally read notes before listening to the music. This way, I allow for the music to speak for itself first. Upon listening to Celebration of the Butterflies I was intrigued because of the manner in which the music ‘became’ the title. It is a heartbreaking story. It deals with the assassination of the Mirabel sisters by Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the brutal dictator of the Dominican Republic. The day of these martyrs has since come to be known as the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women. Apart from this historic note, Celebration of the Butterflies is a soaring piece about the triumph of human endeavour. It also shares the honours of this wonderful album.
Track List: Vantage Point; Calle el Conde a Las; Celebration of the Butterflies; Back Home; Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra: Homage to Tavito; Bachata for Two; From Across the Street.
Personnel: Socrates Garcia: composer, arranger, conductor; Woodwinds: Wil Swindler: alto saxophone, flute; Briana Harris: alto saxophone, flute; Kenyon Brenner: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet; Brielle Frost: flute; Joel Harris: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Ryan Middgah: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Trumpets/Flugelhorns: Brad Goode, Dave Rajewski, Jordan Skomal, Miles Roth; Trombones: Joe Chisholm, Frank Cook, Jonathan Zimmy, Guillermo Rivera; Gary Mayne: bass trombone; Rhythm Section: Manuel Tejada: piano; Pengbian Sang: bass; Steve Kovalcheck: guitar(3); Socrates Garcia: guitar (4); Helen De La Rosa: drums; Percussion: Felix ‘Abuelo’ Garcia: tambora, congas, atabales; Rafael Almengod: atabales, tambu; Josue Reynoso: güiro; Otoniel Nicolas: timbal; Vocals on (7): Hovernys Santana, Felix ‘Abuelo’ Garcia, Lia Nova, Rafael Almengod.
Label: Mama Records
Release date: January 2016
Running time: 54:36
Buy music on: amazon