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Bobby Sanabria - Big Band Urban Folktales
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Aug. 6, 2007
Bobby Sanabria

Review by Brad Walseth

The sounds of Latin music can almost overwhelm in their diversity. Mambo, rhumba, merengue, bomba, samba, salsa, cha-cha - they all have their own beats, and when they are combined, as they are here, with jazz, rock R&B, funk, world music and the blues, the results are guaranteed to be exciting and mind-blowing.

Drummer/multi-talented percussionist Bobby Sanabria grew up in New York, where he was exposed at a young age to that metropolis' vibrant Afro-Cuban/Nuyorican scene. After graduating from Berklee in 1979, Sanabria worked with leading members of the Afro-Cuban big band scene, such as: Dizzy Gillespie, Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Paquito D'Rivera, Chico O'Farrill and Mario Bauza. Both he and his recordings have been nominated and received numerous awards, including "2005 Percussionist of the Year" by the readers of DRUM! Magazine, several Grammy nominations and an NEA grant.

On Big Band Urban Folktales, Sanabria heads up a 20 piece ensemble filled with well-known artists like Michael Phillip Mossman, Joe Fiedler, Chris Washburne, Peter Brainin, Ricardo Pons and David Bixler, along with some hot young players.

Opener, "57th St. Mambo" comes charging out of the gate and moves through many complex rhythmic styles through this thickly orchestrated piece. Composer Mossman plays a fiery trumpet solo, while Sanabria's drum solo is a wonder of power and expression. Trombonist Chris Washburne's "Pink" is next, and it is a pleasure to hear the bandleader has chosen to cover contemporary Latin sounds as well as the traditional, as Washburne's compositions are some of the most compelling new sounds in the genre. The trombonist even solos here on growling bass trombone, while Jeff Lederer adds some spicy tenor sax, and 18-year old pianist Yeissonn Villamar's brings his classy and surprisingly mature work to the table. Buddy Johnson's standard, "Since I Fell For You" features bluesy singer Charnee Wade in a classic version that moves from bolero to swing to cha-cha seamlessly. This arrangement includes a call and response between the band and a scat singing Wade, while trumpter Shar'eef Clayton's trumpet with plunger adds to the bittersweet mirth.

"D Train" is a delightfully grooving number that is meant to evoke a trip on the NYC subway, passing through and stopping in various neighborhoods with their unique forms of expression. The funky "El Lider" centers on Puerto Rican bomba rhythms, while the ever-changing "El Ache De Sanabria En Moderacion" highlights Sanabria on conga with stick (caja), ceremonial drums and marimba (the latter recalling some of Frank Zappa's work with this instrument).

The well-covered "Besame Mucho" is given loving treatment in a new arrangement featuring the smooth vocals of 76 year old Hiram "el Pavo" Remon and a graceful soprano sax solo by Peter Brainin, while "The Crab" staggers side by side as though it were a crab dancing a mambo. Listen for Brainin's quote from "A Love Supreme" in his tenor solo - a nice touch. "O Som Do Sol" moves between different times so much, including waltz, yet maintains a light grace. The horn arrangement here (as throughout) is extremely compelling with a spiraling call and response. Dave Bixler charms with his alto solo, and bassist Alex Hernandez contributes a fine solo to augment his strong supportive playing.

Sanabria brings his vibraphone prowess to the bluesy "Blues For the Booty Shakers," which also showcases Brainin again on ballsy tenor. Somewhat surprisingly, Sanabria follows with the late Frank Zappa's fun number - "The Grand Wazoo," proving he has a wide-ranging interest in music of all types, as well as a much-appreciated sense of humor (the band plays kazoos!) - something the greats of Afro-Latin big band were never lacking in. This stimulating album ends peacefully with the shimmering, spiritual "Obrigado Mestre."

Big Band Urban Folktales is an impressive collection of contemporary Latin big band arrangements featuring fine playing and Sanabria's masterful percussion work that is nearly non-stop in its energy and exuberance.

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