As friendly and profound as ever, Dafnis Prieto, a Cuban drummer settled in New York, assumes every moment as a challenge to create.
Havana. Musical genius emerges in Dafnis Prieto –as affectionate as he was over a decade ago when I met him- in the same spontaneous way he smiled when we met again after a few years without seeing each other.
Physically speaking, he has barely changed –he still has his good-guy face and short beard. Nothing reveals that 37 years have passed since he was born in his beloved Santa Clara, in central Cuba.
He had just arrived from that city, after spending a few days with his family, when he brought me his incredible last production, Dafnis Prieto Proverb Trio, which will soon come on to the market.
As I began writing, I started listening to it in order to understand his announcement: \"It is something that leaves jazz aside.\" But I had to get away from the keyboard to concentrate on listening to this new proposal, a rupture with the many paths he has followed throughout his intense artistic career.
Dafnis and Jason Linder, on keyboards, and singer Kokayi, create in this first production -edited by his Dafnison Music record company- a world of sounds without labels or classifications.
I had read about them when a few months ago they performed in Puerto Rico, but although descriptions in the article were good they could not in the least come closer to an audition like the one I had just enjoyed, in the broadest sense of music.
My predilection for jazz is no secret, although I appreciate many types of music -from popular dance music and the so-called classical to folk and romantic music. However, as my young friend warned me, the project he now develops is unprecedented, at least to my ears, because spontaneous improvisation can lead to think of \"free jazz\" or of the atonal avant-garde, which I respect but they’re not among my favorites (in spite of a Coltrane, a Shepp or a Cecil Taylor). But what they make -these cronies of sound- escapes from that universe.
Dafnis tells me that they do not know what they are going to play when they start playing. Initial times are just that, because what comes afterwards is a dialogue of languages that are mysterious and understandable at the same time, an interweaving of unpredictable creations that others follow, join, incorporate, develop, and make their own, overlapping in such a harmonious way that listeners doubt the claim that they have not rehearsed them.
A praise I read some time ago by Uli Fuchs, who considers this Cuban among the three most important and influential young drummers of contemporary jazz, comes to my mind: \"Dafnis has the fantasy, colorful sound and bandleader talent of Art Blakey, the strength and drive of Elvin Jones, and finally the speed combined with capacity for interaction and sensitivity that we knew in Tony Williams.”
The fact of comparing him with three of the greatest jazz drummers of all time may seem an exaggeration of an enthusiast. I do not dare to join such criterion, in order to prevent people from branding me as biased in my opinion, although I do not hide to express my sympathy with this great human being.
The truth is, undoubtedly, that his collaborations and contributions cover a very wide spectrum, ranging from the Latin nature of Eddie Palmieri, Michel Camilo and Bobby Carcasses, to the very different atmospheres of Steve Coleman and Kip Hanharan.
Music for various formats and currents, including contemporary dance, make him one of today’s most talented young artists worldwide.
This explains the fact that he was given in September, 2011, a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, known as the Genius Grant, provided with 500,000 dollars. Dafnis is the first Cuban musician to get it and the second drummer since its creation in 1981. The previous one was Max Roach, in 1988.
Following that award, he told Diego Ortega: \"For me it means many things at the same time, starting by the fact that, coming from where I come from, Cuba ...\"
And he always returns to Cuba.
The significance the land where he was born and took his first music steps has for him is shown in many passages and titles of the first work of Proverb Trio, from \"The Magic Danzonete\" to \"Let\'s play\".
At times, the burly African-American Kokayi looks like Bobby McFerrin, he comes from the host of Steve Coleman and is considered a rapper. Jason Linder has been praised for years for its innovative concepts without losing the classic ideas of jazz.
Without them, confesses Dafnis, I would not know how to carry out this experience now captured on CD.
The trio can be considered the current visible tip of an iceberg that has been expressed, under his leadership, in the Absolute Quintet, in the Si o Si Quartet, and in his Septet.
The teacher inside him is also happy with the next appearance of his first book on the drums and percussion in general, where he will also put forward his personal creative philosophy.
This conception transcends genres because it seeks to reflect life, his roots and dreams. Everything inspires him -from jazz and hip hop to classical music. For him, it’s more important to reflect \"who you are and not who you want to be.\"
With simple words, like those of all great ones, he tries to explain his art: \"It is more than an action, what is happening is a reaction.\" That is why, like life itself, he’s changeable, and his way of creating music will always be a process in continuous and upward development.
Translated by Brenda Sheehan