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Multiverse: Bobby Sanabria Big Band

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Boldly ambitious and muscular but also smart, knowledgeable and mindful of the traditions at play, Multiverse might be drummer, composer, arranger and educator Bobby Sanabria’s finest work to date. It suggests a summation of many years of living and playing right at the crossroads where jazz and Afro-Latin traditions have met, clashed, borrowed from each other and reinvented themselves many times over. It also speaks of an inclusive vision rooted in practice and daily living. After all, if going from a guaguancó to swing to a bomba groove to a bolero and back, or including a guiro and a didgeridoo, all sounds natural here, it’s no doubt in part because, with Sanabria, the music sounds lived-in. In Multiverse, to list the parts is to miss the whole.

The playing is consistently tight throughout, and the soloing by and large eschews look-at-me pyrotechnics in favor of no-nonsense contributions to the overall sense of the music. (And there are some notable contributions throughout.)

The repertoire pays its respects to Wayne Shorter (an in-your-face, street-tested “Speak No Evil”) and Duke Ellington (Michael Philip Mossman’s sprawling “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite for Ellington”) but also to conguero Cándido Camero (“¡Que Viva Candido!”) and maestro Mario Bauzá, a seminal figure in Afro-Cuban jazz and former Sanabria employer, with “The Chicken/From Havana to Harlem: 100 Years of Mario Bauzá.” (The didactic rap is as well intentioned as it is misguided, however.)

The album also nods to the Great American Songbook with a bolero take on “Over the Rainbow” that evolves into a slow, lush cha cha cha. And it champions the Great (still largely unrecognized) Latin American Songbook with a torrid reading of Rafael Hernández’s “Cachita.”

Multiverse is a generous, high-energy contribution to the great Latin big-band tradition.

Originally Published