Dafnis Prieto has always been one to think big in his music, but this is the first time he’s opted to actually go big. For this dynamic date, the drummer-composer assembled a 17-piece big band that proves more than capable of alternately playing with heat and heart, meeting this music’s complex rhythmic demands and delivering its wide-ranging harmonic specifications.
Each and every track on this outfit’s maiden voyage pays homage to a number of significant figures who’ve inspired the man at the helm. Three of those heavyweights appear as featured guests on one song apiece: Brian Lynch’s trumpet makes its mark on the zesty “Una Vez Más,” a tribute to that Jazz Messenger along with honorees Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente; Henry Threadgill’s ardent alto smolders and seduces on the balladic title track, a number dedicated to the Pulitzer winner as well as to Andrew Hill; and Steve Coleman’s saxophone plays around with the exuberant nature of “Song for Chico,” adding a heightened sense of drama and a notable cadenza to this offering for the titular O’Farrill, his bandleader progeny Arturo and Mario Bauzá. Coleman’s absence on the number actually honoring him (and Michel Camilo), the vibrant “Out of the Bone,” seems somewhat odd given the formula, but that music perfectly captures his spirit in its interconnectedness.
At its best, as on the flute- and mute-enhanced “The Sooner the Better” and the rhythmically seductive “Danzonish Potpourri,” Prieto’s writing manages to artfully work the foreground-background seam in its unfolding. Those pieces possess their own distinctive flavors while providing support to the stellar soloists within the ranks.