WBGO Radar

Dafnis Prieto Sextet: Triangles And Circles

dafnis prieto circles and triangles

Don’t be fooled by the abstract title and cover. Dafnis Prieto’s Triangles and Circles speaks to – and from – the heart of music.

It’s the prolific Cuban-born drummer and composer’s sixth album as a leader, and the second for his sextet.

This stunningly cohesive group, with Peter Apfelbaum and Felipe Lamoglia on saxophones, Mike Rodriguez on trumpet, Manuel Valera on piano and Johannes Weidenmuller on bass, offers a perfect canvas for Prieto’s complex musical ideas.

They make these notions swing and sing, creating a kind of human music of the spheres that would make Plato proud.

Recorded on the heels of a residency at New York’s Jazz Standard last year, the group brings Prieto’s conceptions to life in ways that are consistently lyrical, surprising and pleasing to the ear.

Like Plato, Prieto has a passion for forms. The title track combines modules of melody and rhythm, in opposition then reconciled, much as circles and triangles are radically different shapes that interlock.

Lamoglia and Apfelbaum’s dazzling interplay on saxophones only gets better when Rodriguez steps in to the conversation.

Much in the way snippets of lyric opera hang in the air over Louis Armstrong’s improvisations, Cuban melodies weave in and out of these tracks, grounding them in heartfelt experience.

“Flores” is a lyrical tribute to Cuban-born bassist Charles Flores, who passed away at age 41 in 2012. It will move you to tears.  

Flores, like Prieto, Valera and Lamoglia, made the most of his early years in Cuba’s conservatory system, before coming to the U.S. in his twenties to find his way in to jazz. He is a fallen hero of this astonishingly gifted generation, whose contributions to music have only just begun.

Weidenmuller’s double bass offers an emotional testament to Flores and Apfelbaum’s melodica is a plaintive surprise, in conversation with Valera.

“Blah Blah Blah” and “Blah Blah” are a two-part homage to the interlocking musical heartbeats of Havana and New Orleans. As the titles suggest, just as the Cuban clave has two interlocking parts – these two musical cultures are inexorably entwined, each made better by the other.

The Sextet will celebrate the CD’s release at New York’s Jazz Standard September 18-20.

Can’t wait? I can’t. Prieto’s “Si o Si” quartet, with Valera, Apfelbaum and Weidenmuller, will be at Chenanga Arts in Norwich, NY  on May 9.

The full sextet will be in California for shows Los Angeles, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay June 12-14.

Triangles and Circles is a richly rewarding study in contrasts – contrasts in life, as in form. Don’t miss it.

  - Tim Wilkins, WBGO digital content producer

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