Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Sanabria Effect

Friday was definitely hip. Reviews of PrimeraJazz and Bobby Sanabria with Duke's big band.

PrimeraJazz sparkled Friday evening for a well turned-out crowd at the NC Art Museum's "Sabor Latino" Art in the Evening party. I came in between sets, and had time to make the rounds and order a nice Spanish wine with some sweet potato fries (one of the South's true delicacies) as I settled in for set 2. I've rarely seen an unknown group capture the ear of a crowd that was actively feeding and drinking, but this audience ate up the music with the same gusto as they consumed their Cuban pork tortillas and mango and cheese sampler plates. Even as the party was winding down, intent listeners were still lingering in a circle around the band, arms folded, concentrating on the next change in the weather: from stirring salsa montunos to the soulful minimalism of an Ahmad Jamal-style piano line, a jolt of uppity New Orleans clave, or a classical piano solo in the coda of Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia." Al Strong's trumpet sailed over the modulated seas of so much rhythm (bateria and conga, bass and piano), and the mood was percolating. Among fellow thrill-seekers was Eduardo Winston of Paso, and we shared the limelight for a few unplanned demos of casino dance steps. Rather than hold back when the rumba calls, I've long ago learned that the best response is always to answer in the affirmative.


From Raleigh, I jetted back to Durham in time to hear the Duke University Jazz Ensemble finishing out their first set with "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." Suitably warmed up, I went backstage at intermission to say hi to Bobby Sanabria, our distinguished visitor of the last week, who was getting ready to lead the concert's second half. These are heavy charts; Machito, Puente; nothing for any swing band to take for granted. Bobby's knack is to up the ante, turning up the tempo on "Frenzy" for added hyperbole, adding a frisky drum solo to "Mambo Beat" (which earned him a standing ovation), and juicing up the caboose of his saxophone section with an all-male cha-cha revue during "Since I Fell for You."

(click on photo to see the series)
Since I Fell For You

Michael Philip Mossman's as yet unrecorded "Hour of Darkness" grew on me like an invasive plant, as I heard it day to day in rehearsals and the concert hall. I'm sure it will be on somebody's next album. Bobby dedicated it to the current administration, and only one person in the audience walked out (ha!). The trombones took solo honors, with Mitch Butler delivering bluesy sabor and Evan Ringel (a Hillsborough high school student) standing tall. The Sanabria effect even transformed the Ensemble's mild-mannered guitar player, Andrew Walker, into a second-line drum major who led game members of the audience on a procession through the hall for the closing "Tururato" re-packaged as a New Orleans homage.

CD sales of Bobby's Grammy-nominated Big Band Urban Folktales after the show were brisk, paving the way (we hope?) for future visits. "I'd like to bring my nonet down to the [new downtown Durham] arts center," says Sanabria, referring to his smoking Latin jazz nine-piece Ascención.

To preview that in your mind's eye, here's a full-length clip of Bobby Sanabria & Ascención playing "Be Bop" at the 2006 Modern Drummer festival:

And for a blast from the past, get a peek at Sanabria here playing drums on a 1984 television show called Heatwave, backing Mongo Santamaria on an uptight (and outtasight) Marty Sheller tune "Pirana":

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