Over the past two decades, Dafnis Prieto has established himself not only as a visionary drummer but also—and perhaps more importantly—as a dynamic composer and bandleader. Whether grooving with an experimental trio, working his way around a quintet with bold and beautiful intent, or burning behind his Grammy-winning big band, he always puts the music first. That’s been clear across his entire oeuvre, and this aptly titled set is no exception.
Flexing his fructuous pen, Prieto uses this album—his third with a sextet, following 2008’s Taking the Soul for a Walk and 2015’s Triangles and Circles—to place his thoughts in plain light. Chattering cross-rhythms, layered lines, swift changes in direction, and episodes of pure grace inform the work. “Amanecer Contigo” lights the way with a joyful rhythmic spree. “No Es Fácil” moves from a relatively mellow realm to a more energetic avenue. “Cry With Me” gives Prieto a chance to let loose on his kit. And “On the Way,” which opens in reflective mode before taking off behind a pointillist’s thrust, seems to depict a frenzied drive on the freeway. The lone cover keeping company with these originals—a revamped take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” that’s stretched and recolored—feels right at home in the mix.
Prieto’s drumming pushes and pulls this well-charted postmodern Latin jazz in multiple directions, and his bandmates prove impressive too. Reedmen Román Filiú and Peter Apfelbaum undulate, singe, and soar. Trumpeter Alex Norris packs a seriously mean punch. Pianist Alex Brown dazzles with his intricate design webs. And bassist Johannes Weidenmueller owns the low end. There’s absolutely no pussyfooting around in these dazzling performances; the Dafnis Prieto Sextet triumphs in its transparency.