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Dafnis Prieto Sextet: Triangles and Circles

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This CD’s title and that of its opening selection, “Back and Forth,” exemplify the music: Shapes, shadings and tonalities swirl in and out, sometimes alternating, sometimes blending, sometimes juxtaposed. Emotionally, as well, it’s an exercise in shape-shifting and discovery. An elusive melancholy informs even some of the most celebratory offerings-minor-key structures, dark colorations in the horn voicings, unsettling tempo shifts-but it’s challenged, and finally overcome, by festive exuberance. Syncopations layer upon and prod one another, goaded by pianist Manuel Valera’s dexterous vamping and Prieto’s multifaceted percussion work; the horns’ tones broaden and brighten as happiness gushes forth in victory.

“The Evil in You” is the instrumental equivalent of the Dozens: back-and-forth signifying between duo lineups (sax-and-trumpet vs. sax-and-piano), with bass and drums both goading and refereeing the game. Peter Apfelbaum’s yawping tenor sax heightens the mood of playful contentiousness; alto saxophonist Felipe Lamoglia plays the trickster, dancing and weaving in and out of the fray with quickstep dexterity.

“Blah Blah Blah” and “Blah Blah” follow suit, with street-parade rhythms and melodic lines sharpened with rhythmic breaks and switchbacks. Reeds and rhythm instruments toss themes back and forth, sometimes commingling, sometimes contrasting, again invoking the verbal jazz dance of street corner repartee-aggressive and shot through with humor, hard-edged but never cynical. “Flores,” in contrast, is more meditative: Voices interweave, sometimes almost in unison, sometimes segueing and cross-fading; Apfelbaum’s melodica adds a further tinge of pathos, although he eventually attains a carnivalesque gaiety. Lamoglia likewise tempers ebullience with introspection, and Prieto, as always, is the master of the dance with his trademark blend of precision and fearlessness. It’s a seamless meld of melodic eloquence and rhythmic dexterity-exemplifying, as well, the music’s subtle but complex emotional tapestry.

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