By Hakim Abdul-Ali
When one normally thinks of outstanding Latin musicians, past and current, you maybe a little remiss for not immediately knowing who Dafnis Prieto is. Well, after appearing at the Spoleto Festival USA Wells Fargo Jazz Series Wednesday 29, 2019, Mr. Prieto and his seventeen-piece-big band ensemble left no doubt who they were.
Mr. Prieto and his big band ensemble of eclectic and legitimately certified musicians performed at the spectacular Charleston Gaillard Center Martha and John M. Rivers Performance Hall for Spoleto Festival USA, and they were stupendous. To use a term like that in describing anyone usually puts them on an isolated island where there’s no shelter from discerning indifferences, musically speaking, if one were to critique them objectively.
I certainly have and am doing so now, and I want you to know that Dafnis Prieto and his big band mates are an infectiously stupendous array of exceedingly skilled musicians. Their collaborative Afro-Cuban sound seemingly reverberates through time and space with an ardently melodious thunder, emphasized by Mr. Prieto’s abundant, wholehearted drumming licks. This forty-five-year-old musician and bandleader is a completely intense performer, very similar in ways just like the late legendary great jazz drummer jazz Gene Krupa was, in my frank opinion.
There’s a passionate obsession that seems to exude from both of their expressively dominant and ever-forceful playing styles. Dafnis’ energetic drumming technique and vigorous arrangements, along with his big band member’s coordinated sounds, in particular, can only be described as eminently assertive and pulsating. Their AfroCuban musical landscaped show was backed with a tremendous sense of creating a vibe where everyone in the band seemed to be having a swell time at all times while doing their own performing thing at the concert.
The concert began with the band playing “Una Vez Mas” a flourishing musical Latino tune, to start the show with. You could begin to see how dynamic the Dafnis Prieto Big Band was (and is) by their buoyant playing on this very first number. Next came tuneful composition “The Sooner the Better,” followed by the strong “Out of the Bone” and then the sonorous “Back to the Sunset,” all setting the capacity filled audience up for the continuation of a wondrous Latino musical jamboree.
Politeness aside, Mr. Prieto and his band mates played their hearts out for the audience, but I sensed, oftentimes, it really was them “gigging” to their own enjoyment and entertainment pleasures because they were having so much fun playing together. The vibrant group continued their rhythmic onslaught by performing the the deep “Back to the Sunset” and the heartfelt “Danzonish Potpourri.”
After these numbers came “Song for Chico,” “Prelude Para Rosa” and the engaging “Two for One” to the delight of the pleased audience. The almost one hour and thirty-two minute show ended with a final crowd pleaser, the robust “The Triumphant Journey.” Listening to bandleader, composer and educator Dafnis Prieto and his group of conga, bass, trumpet, flute and saxophone playing Afro-Cuban jazz orchestra cohorts is really an exhilarating, potent musical experience.
In conclusion, one thing that I must add about Dafnis Prieto is that he’s also an accomplished first-rate solo performer with numerous successful solo albums to his credit, plus a superb resume that includes having performed outstanding sessions work with some of the world’s biggest Latin superstars around. I had the pleasure of seeing him play with one of my personal superstar Afro-Cuban piano heroes, Chucho Valdés, last year for the 2018 Spoleto Festival USA Wells Fargo Jazz Series. He was very good while playing with the incomparable Mr. Valdés, but on that Wednesday night, he was definitely the featured distinguished ringleader, headlining one of Wells Fargo Jazz Series beat shows for this year. It was a powerhouse event.