Dafnis Prieto Proverb Trio
Composition is a challenging and elusive craft at the best of times, so it’s undeniably impressive that the Proverb Trio can practice it spontaneously with such cohesion and invention. The trio, led by Dafnis Prieto, collectively improvises songs based around the Cuban-born percussionist’s multifaceted rhythms, with Jason Lindner on electronic keyboards and Kokayi freestyling lyrics and vocal percussion.
Live, watching these rhythms gel into something so accessible and kinetic must be a blast; on record, unfortunately, the construction is not so fascinating and the architecture is repeatedly revealed to be flimsy. In utilizing improvisation to achieve concise songs, the trio too often ends up with a compromise exposing the worst of both worlds: The invention is restrained in service of creating recognizable structure, while collective co-writing results in songs that are approachable but unmemorable.
The album opens, curiously, with “Into the Light Love,” a 1980s flashback whose swirling keyboards and soaring vocals recall Peter Gabriel. Each ensuing tune delves into a separate feel. The rainy-day ballad “You and Me,” for example, is followed by the grimy blues swagger of “The Magic Danzonete.”
It’s telling that the disc’s best moments are those when the song form is at its loosest or is discarded altogether. “You Got It” is a New Orleans second-line groover with Kokayi sputtering fragments of phrases, like half-finished thoughts from Allen Toussaint’s notebook. “Extasis” nixes the vocals altogether for a dreamy, floating-in-the-cosmos feel.
Prieto and Lindner are both inventive improvisers who continually evolve the music with deft touches even when striving for synchronicity. Kokayi’s vocals, though, dwell on platitudes and trite sloganeering, as on the anti-war lullaby “In War” or the “Mother Earth is crying” bumper-sticker-isms of “What Have We All Done.”