Bobby Sanabria is a New York City treasure. As a musician, bandleader and educator, his pedigree is impeccable. A master jazz drummer, he was weaned at the knee of Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, and other jazz legends. Through his own orchestra and smaller groups, and as a music teacher at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, he has nurtured, educated and inspired many of the city’s most promising young musicians, just as he was inspired by direct contact with his jazz elders.
On top of all that, Sanabria is from the South Bronx. Even before he became a professional musician, the rhythms and syncopation of the streets where Latin music first took root in NYC became embedded in his DNA. He is the product of an authentic cultural experience based on geography, ethnicity, and musical history. And as a drummer and bandleader, he is among the best in the country, if not the world.
If all that sounds like hyperbole, it’s not. Sanabria’s role in the universe of contemporary Latin jazz really is all that.
Case in point: Sanabria’s new CD entitled MULTIVERSE, which is perhaps the hottest and most ambitious Latin jazz big band record you will have heard in the last decade. I have been listening to Sanabria’s work for a long time, have heard all his CDs, but nothing prepared me for the scope and sheer force of MULTIVERSE. It is a powerful statement of everything this artist has learned up to this point in his career and will no doubt have you on board in anticipation of everything he does in the future.
The opening cut – the theme from the movie “The French Connection” – will cause you to drop whatever you are doing and listen with full attention. The arrangement is complex, with an incredible driving force that has the impact of a NYC traffic jam having been corralled and turned into music. It is a stunning opening salvo to a CD that ebbs and flows in terms of tempo and musical styles but never loses that same high level of integrity.
Within the realm of Afro Cuban, Puerto Rican and American jazz styles, Sanabria’s influences are vast – a multiverse, as folklorist Elena Martínez points out in the CD’s liner notes – and nearly all of those influences can be heard on this new CD. The song “Cachito” opens as an Afro Cuban rumba before transitioning into something more robust and muscular. “Over the Rainbow” is a Latin jazz tribute to the beautiful and familiar ballad, sung by Charaneé Wade, that segues into a melodic cha cha cha. “Wordsworth Ho!” an arrangement by band member Chris Washburn, is another barnburner, with the dissonance of Mingus, driven by Sanabria’s own drumming and a brass section that distinguishes this band as among the elite playing today.
There are ten cuts on MULTIVERSE, every one of them the kind of music you will find yourself absorbing with your heart, hips, feet, culo and intellect. My favorite is, and always will be, the “Afro Cuban Jazz Suite for Ellington,” which is the hottest and most exciting Latin jazz tribute to the Duke that you will ever hear. At fourteen minutes in length, ranging over a number of familiar Ellington compositions, you will wish it went on for at least another hour or two.
Another contribution on the CD worth noting is that of Caridad De la Luz, also known as “La Bruja,” who, like Sanabria, is from the South Bronx. La Bruja is a local legend in the spoken word scene in NYC, a sassy Nuyorican with prodigious poetic gifts and charisma to burn. She adds rap and background vocals to a number of cuts, most notably a swinging tribute to Mario Bauza, narrated in rhyme and verse by La Bruja in her inimitable street style.
As with most bands led by a drummer -- from Buddy Rich to Max Roach to Ray Barretto and beyond – Sanabria’s ensemble is hard-driving and percussive. There is physical power in this music, but also a harmonic precision that turns on a dime. A big band with anywhere between ten to twenty members on different cuts that plays with the dexterity of a small quintet is something that requires a high level of sweat and concentration. In this regard, the Bobby Sanabria Big Band sounds like the musical equivalent of a team of Olympic gold medal winners who have been in training for nearly a lifetime.
This is not pop music, with soothing, saccharine melodies to be played in the background while you are doing domestic chores. MULTIVERSE brings history, inventiveness and the highest levels of musicianship to bear on an essential musical tradition. Sanabria throws down the gauntlet by posing the question: do you have the chops to hear, feel and comprehend all that this music has to offer? If so, bend your ears, hold on to your hats and pay attention, because the Bobby Sanabria Big Band will dazzle your senses, and then some.
To learn more about MULTIVERSE, listen to selected arrangements and/or purchase the CD or download, go to the following link: www.jazzheads.com