Dafnis Prieto Big Band brings the house down in an explosive performance 

Watching the Sunset

click to enlarge Dafnis Prieto sees Spoleto standards and tops them

Henry Lopez

Dafnis Prieto sees Spoleto standards and tops them

Some say that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. The written word can't describe music accurately, and if it does, writing is still second best to listening. The statement's validity is debatable, but Latin-jazz drummer Dafnis Prieto gives it reason for a reevaluation.

For an hour -and-a-half, Prieto and his big band antiquated the practice of music journalism through an indescribable set of sublime and frenzied jazz tunes from his Grammy Award-winning album Back to the Sunset. Every musician's composure and masterful hold on their instrument was markedly more interesting than a notebook with a page labelled "Dafnis Prieto review." The explosive zeal in the music was contagious, to say the least.

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Fans of the album already knew the talent of these musicians and the breadth of the compositions, but seeing it live gave the music a new sense of scope. Doused in colorful lighting, the band made the audience feel the dynamics of cinematic jazz Western, "The Sooner the Better."

On "Out of the Bone," dueling trombone solos and an extended baritone sax intro highlighted the band's improvisational abilities. On the other side of the stage, Prieto showed his freakishly great grasp on rhythm and time signature. He anchored himself and the band to the beat with a steady hi-hat chug, but performed such complex drum patterns that it appeared to be polyrhythmic.

Prieto was joined by 16 other musicians, using instruments that ranged from congas to melodica among other standard tools of the jazz trade. Seeing the horn section's subtle interactions with the music created an appreciation for the textures that Prieto strived for on Back to the Sunset.

On the LP's beautiful and orchestral title track, the big band built a moving performance centered on the sum of the parts. Each musician played their role with such an ease and livelihood that it looked effortless.

When the band performed "Song for Chico," the wild instrumental bordered on tonal cacophony without breaking from rhythmic perfection. The interplay between the soloing musicians and the entire horn section peppered the song with enough flavor to warrant impromptu creation of a bootleg copy, just to be able to listen to it again.

The entire band felt the energy of the show. Every one of these expert musicians smiled and laughed their way through the performance. The horns gestured when they were impressed by their fellow bandmates, and it's hard not to notice the look of joy on Prieto's face when he nailed a drum fill or crushed a creative solo.

"I have never seen someone do that," one man in the crowd ecstatically yelled during an improvised drum section. The audience's exuberance was universal, indicated by a standing ovation in the middle of the set. The show wasn't complete and the audience was already running out of ways to show their excitement.

As the packed house exited the Gaillard Center, the last thing written on that page labelled "Dafnis Prieto review" was a question.

"How do you describe that?"

Writing about music isn't always like dancing about architecture, but describing this performance is one of the rare times when it is. The energy in that room is going to be tough to find again.

The only downside to the Dafnis Prieto Big Band's performance is that it was one night only.

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