Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band – West Side Story Reimagined – Jazzheads 

by | Aug 13, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews

A captivating and fulfilling recording that more than reimagines this enduring masterpiece. 

Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band – West Side Story Reimagined – Jazzheads JH1231 (2CDs)  79:38****

( Bobby Sanabria – music director, drum set plus 20 person big band)

In the early 1590s, William Shakespeare wrote the Verona, Italy based tragedy Romeo and Juliet centred around an undisclosed generational feud between the Montagues and Capulets, and there was no accompanying musical score ( at least none that we are aware of ). In 1957, when Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim wrote the Broadway musical West Side Story, they appropriated the Romeo and Juliet story line but transformed it into an ethnic and racial gang war between whites and Puerto Ricans as embodied by the Jets and the Sharks. In this instance, the story line was advanced by the  ambitious music of Bernstein and Sondheim.

Drummer Bobby Sanabria and his Mulitverse Big Band have taken this musical gem and turned it into a Latin jazz celebration and recorded it live at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in New York City on November 19,2017. With this large band, backed by a robust six person rhythm section, playing layered innovative charts, the end result is a captivating and fulfilling recording that more than reimagines this enduring masterpiece.

There were a number of individual compositions written for this production that gained wide acceptance in the musical world:  America, Tonight, Maria, Somewhere. Additionally, this recording contains such a  multitude of other riches that it is a challenge to decide where to begin. On CD1, the “Prologue” provides some guidance as it is set up by arranger Jeremy Fletcher, using the congas of Oreste Abrantes and bongos of Matthew Gonzáles and the various rhythmic elements, to depict the first encounter between the Jets and Sharks to lay out their turf claims.

“America” arranged by Jeff Lederer illustrates the story of the immigration circumstances of the Puerto Ricans, who not technically immigrants since they have been US citizens since 1917, but nevertheless have felt marginalized in their own country. Using the rhythmic cadence of the Venezuelan joropo, and a strong solos from trombonist Chris Washburn, altoist Andrew Gould,  pianist Darwin Noguera, and electric bassist Leo Traversa, the band plays with empathy and suppleness.

“Tonight” is one of the signature numbers of the session as it is envelops the romance between Tony ( Romeo) and Maria (Juliet). Matt Wong has arranged the number to cover a multiplicity of dance styles that is embraced by a couple in love. The bolero, samba and merengue give shape to the lovers desire to find happiness and build a future together. Helping to give all this meaning, David Dejesus alto sax, Takao Heisho chic, Peter Brainin tenor sax and Darwin Noguera piano all play with passion and command during their solo stints.

CD2 begins with the hauntingly memorable love song “Maria”. But rather than the expected ballad interpretation, Sanabria and the band structure the number in the West African-rooted bembé form. The melodically intense drumming and percussion propel the number, as the internal tension continues to build between Tony and Maria. They have to come to accept the reality of trying to find true love in two distinct cultures.

The final show number of the session is “Somewhere”. Done in a Venezuelan joropo rhythm, it features an electric violin solo from Ben Sutin as the band demonstrates its musical flexibility and reliable shifting through colors and form in several unison sections.

As Leonard Bernstein celebrates his centenary in 2018, one can believe he would be genuinely pleased by this interpretation of his masterwork.

Intro; Prologue; Intro Jet Song; Jet Song; Intro America; America;  Intro Gee Officer Krupke ; Gee Officer Krupke; Tonight; Gym Scene-Blues Mambo; Gym Scene-Cha Cha Cha.

Maria; Intro Cool; Cool; The Rumble Rhumba; One Hand,One Heart; Somewhere; Intro Epilogue Finale; Outro

—Pierre Giroux

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