Bobby Sanabria: Congo Mulence


Congo Mulence


Bobby Sanabria & the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra


Kenya Revisited (Jazzheads 1167)

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Bobby Sanabria (conductor and timbales), Anthony Stanco (trumpet), Justin Janer (alto sax), Michael Davenport (tenor sax), Christian Sands (piano), Billy Norris (bass), Norman Edwards (drums)


Composed by A.K. Salim


Recorded: Borden Auditorium, Manhattan School of Music, New York, April 1, 2008


Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

There is nothing quite like the excitement and sound that emanates from a finely tuned jazz orchestra. A big band will always follow in the shadows of the masters of the art that preceded them: Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie and in this case, Machito and The Afro-Cubans. There is no end to the mixed emotions of trepidation and awe that young musicians must feel when trying to be true to such a rich and daunting musical heritage. The Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Bobby Sanbria, has carried on the tradition successfully with a remarkably tight orchestra that the masters would envy.

Playing to an obviously partisan crowd at their school auditorium, the excitement generated on this live album is palpable. The band is tremendously tight and the student musicians flow through the arrangements with an ease and professionalism that belies their age and experience.

The concert celebrated the fifty-year anniversary of the original “Kenya” recording by Machito. Bobby Sanabria and the orchestra serve up a tasty Afro-Cuban dish on A.K. Salim’s blues-based “Congo Mulence”. The original recording featured Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto and Joe Newman on trumpet as soloists behind a bata rhythm. In this modernized version, arranger Joe Fielder uses a mambo superimposed with a bembč rhythm in 6/8 time at the intro. In front of a cha-cha rhythm, Anthony Stanco does an admirable job of playing in the lost style of the “dirty” sounding plunger-trumpet. A searing alto solo by the talented Justin Janer is played against the swaying rhythm of the band behind him. After a conga break, a Latin inspired up-tempo piano solo by Christian Sands is overlaid with precisely alternating brass and reed backgrounds in the big band tradition, building to a crescendo of sound that yields to a powerful tenor solo by Michael Davenport. A dynamic Edwards on drums and a fluid solo by Norris on bass along with a cacophony of clave, congas and bongo players keep the band in a rhythmic frenzy, followed by Sanabria on a conga backed timbale solo. The band pours it on in the last chorus and demonstrates a mastery of the complex twists and turns in the Fielder arrangement, which they execute flawlessly. At the coda, Stanco returns with a growled muted trumpet statement before removing the plunger and soaring in a high register punctuation in the finale.

Reviewer: Ralph A. Miriello

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