Exploring Dafnis Prieto, 2011 Macarthur Fellow: Prieto as Bandleader
Dafnis Prieto recently was honored as a 2011 MacArthur Fellow, being recognized for excellence in his artistic pursuits. From his studies in Cuba to his professional work in New York, Prieto has always been a musician committed to outstanding artistry and pushing the limits of his creative energy. This cutting edge attitude has led to a burst of Latin Jazz excitement, but not in the standard ways that one might expect. Prieto has shown himself to be a technically astounding drummer, an inspired bandleader, an edgy avant grade musician, a supportive sideman, and a genre bending composer that has contributed to jazz, Latin music, modern classical settings, and more. The money that comes with the MacArthur Fellowship is meant to fund future creativity, which they assume will follow the path of Prieto's high artistic standards. In this series, we'll be exploring the different facets of Prieto's outstanding career that led to this honor.
Dafnis Prieto As Bandleader
As a bandleader, Prieto has worked tirelessly to find unique settings for his restless creative spirit. He hasn't followed the standard formula of Latin Jazz repertoire anchored by Cubanized jazz standards; in fact, he hasn't taken anything of a traditional path. Prieto's albums have consisted completely of cutting edge original compositions that referred simultaneously to Cuban traditions, post modern jazz, and classical forms without obviously playing any of them. In addition, he has consistently experimented with new instrumental configurations and different combinations of musicians in support of his original compositions. As a result, Prieto's work has pushed Latin Jazz in completely new directions and given rise to an influential voice full of twenty-first century potential.
About The Monks (Zoho Music, 2005)
Prieto's debut album as a leader turned heads across the jazz world, impressing listeners with daring compositions and bold performances. Making his first recording with a sextet, his line-up was anchored by some of the best musicians on New York's modern Latin Jazz scenetrumpet player Brian Lynch, pianist Luis Perdomo, and bassist Hans Glawischnig. He rounded out the group with a long time collaborator from Cuba, saxophonist Yosvany Terry and violinist Ilmar Gavilon. The music moves between hard-bop fire, modern play with time signatures, nods to Cuban tradition, and an inherent rhythmic complexity and drive that explodes from the speakers. It's clear that Prieto has a mature musical voice throughout the album, but he's definitely defining himself as a composer. All the pieces are apparent for his future potential, they're just in developmental stages. About The Monks is a fantastic listen though, full of vibrant musicality and creative eng.
Absolute Quintet (Zoho Music, 2006)
Prieto slimmed down his group to a quintet for this release, and mixed up to the personnel to great effect. Terry continued to collaborate with Prieto, but rhythm section duties became the sole realm of Prieto and keyboardist Jason Linder. Strings played a greater role in the album, reflecting Prieto's background in classical music with Christian Howes on violin and Dana Leong on cello. Prieto shatters all expectations with this album, plunging his musicianship in a completely new direction that edges on funky fusion. The sonic texture of e rich string writing against the keyboards make guest soloist Henry Threadgill's alto come alive on Afrotango," in an album highlight performance. The album centerpiece, the three movement piece Three Day Suite" takes the group in several different directions, highlighting the inability of a listener to pigeonhole Prieto. In fact, the one steady track throughout the album is the intensity and precision of Prieto's brilliantly colorful performance. It's a huge step forward in maturity for Prieto that signifies his potential for future artistry.q
Taking The Soul For A Walk (Dafnison Music, 2008)
Prieto returned to a sextet with this album, once again altering the personnel to bring out new colors in his compositions. The strings and keyboards are gone here, in favor of a more traditional configuration. Manual Valera covers piano duties here, with Yunior Terry on bass and a full array of wind players, including Terry, saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, and trumpet player Avashai Cohen. The compositions make full use of the bold wind colors, using intertwining melodic lines, tense harmonies, and rhythmic counterpoints. Prieto's concept seems to hinge on the relationship between written parts and open spaces for improvisational statements, filling both areas with increasingly complete and mature ideas. Prieto reinvented himself in yet another role with this albumthat of independent artist and record label owner. In complete control of both the business and artistic sides of his career, Prieto boldly takes creative risks and delivers an awe-inspiring masterpiece.
Live At Jazz Standard NYC (Dafnison Music, 2009)
Prieto debuted yet another configuration of musicians on this album, his Si O Si Quintet. Valera and Apfelbaum return in this configuration, accompanied by Prieto's band mate from Michel Camilo's group, bassist Charles Flores. The smallest configuration to date captured on record, Prieto's quintet delivers a highly improvisatory performance filled with inspired playing. At the same time, the composed material features some tight and virtuosic playing multiplying the power of four people into a huge sound. The drummer's writing sounds fresh and innovative, pulling colorful harmonies out of the group and constantly playing with rhythmic evolution. A live recording made at one of the New York jazz scene's mainstays, The Jazz Standard, the album captures all the energy and vitality of Prieto's performances. The most mature statement from Prieto that we've heard, this album overflows with intelligent risk taking, skillfully crafted drama, and masterful interplay that demands repeated listens.