Dafnis Prieto Si O Si: Kaleidoscopic Clave


Dafnis Prieto performs at WBGO. i i

Dafnis Prieto performs at WBGO. Josh Jackson/See More Photos hide caption

itoggle caption Josh Jackson/See More Photos
Dafnis Prieto performs at WBGO.

Dafnis Prieto performs at WBGO.

Josh Jackson/See More Photos


Dafnis Prieto, drums
Manuel Valera, piano
Charles Flores, bass
Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophon

Dafnis Prieto came to New York from Cuba more than a decade ago. He needed very little time to scare the pants off most drummers in jazz and Afro-Cuban music. (Hear him demonstrate how he plays clave in this interview and you'll understand what I mean.)

Prieto discovered new ways to frame the clave, the rhythmic blood and guts of Afro-Cuban music, into a series of subdivided jazz polyrhythms. He retains the dance over a composite of interlocking rhythms that move in unison to modern harmony. In this session for WBGO's The Checkout, Dafnis Prieto's Si o Si (Yes or Yes) Quartet plays music from its new recording, Live at the Jazz Standard. It's the first live recording of Prieto's original writing.

Prieto acknowledges different ways to listen to music, but the thrill of discovery still serves as a mutual goal between the artist and his audience.

"I'm listening to the same thing you're listening to," Prieto says. "You're a passive listener and I'm an active listener, which helps me to react on the sound that I'm making. The difference is that I'm reacting right away, so I can keep doing it. It's as new for me as it is for you."

Optical Inspiration

In "Ilu-Uli," you hear the results of Prieto's research into optical illusions (and optical allusions, if you stare at the title long enough). A fan of Salvador Dali's surrealist work, Dafnis Prieto concedes, "I get inspiration from a lot of things that are not necessarily music. I'm not only looking at music; I'm looking at the whole spectrum. I get a lot of information from visual arts, dance movements and life itself."

Prieto dedicates "Claveteo" to the clave rhythm, and he superimposes the clave over the role of each band member.

"I placed the clave in different meters inside the piece itself," Prieto says. "The melodic line goes with the sax player and bass player. The piano starts and keeps the rhythm of the clave the whole time with one note. I'm basically holding and supporting the tune and making embellishments. We're playing the clave in different places together. It's kind of like knitting."

Prieto's perspective is something like viewing the clave in a kaleidoscope: There's a beauty to the symmetry. No matter how you slice it, Si o Si guarantees a positive outcome.

Dafnis Prieto's Si o Si Quartet will perform at the Jazz Standard in New York on Oct. 9-11. They also perform at Berklee's Cafe 939 in Boston on Oct. 14-15.

Originally recorded Sept. 2, 2009, at WBGO. Hosted and produced by Josh Jackson. Mix by Josh Webb.

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