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June 2008

Dafnis Prieto Sextet
Taking the Soul for a Walk
Dafnison

Never has the line between traditional Latin-jazz and 21st-century postbop been so wonderfully blurred as on Taking the Soul for a Walk. Drummer-composer Dafnis Prieto outlines the dance rhythms of his native Cuba, but his sextet adds complexity that evokes John Lewis’ quote about Duke Ellington: “His music was too exciting to dance to.”

There’s a distinct Latin flair throughout, via pianist Manuel Valera’s ringing chords, Prieto’s and bassist Yunior Terry’s grooves, and the fluidity of a horn section that includes trumpeter Avishai Cohen and saxophonists Peter Apfelbaum and Yosvany Terry. But most of the time, somebody, somehow, is defying that flair, whether in the funk bass of “En Las Ruinas de su Infancia” or Apfelbaum’s melodica—a harmonica-keyboard hybrid associated with reggae—on the otherwise salsa-fied “Just Say It.” Most often, it’s the drummer himself. Prieto loves to bury the core rhythms under intricacies of such speed and virtuosity that he seems to have five hands. On “Two Excuses,” for example, what everyone else plays as a rumba becomes an astonishment of kicks, rolls and unceasing punishment for the snare.

Yet Prieto and his gang are as tight as they come. The horns sparkle in both unison and solo passages—Cohen’s work on “The Sooner the Better” is particularly fine—and have a startling rapport with the rhythm section; on the closing “Emergency Call,” Valera’s Rhodes hums while everyone around him fuses into one sonic mass. Subversive genre-bending or not, Taking the Soul for a Walk is solidly in the pocket—and it’s glorious.

Originally published in June 2008
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