Sunday, November 11, 2018

Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band: “West Side Story Reimagined” (2018) CD Review

My interest in West Side Story sprung solely from my interest in Shakespeare. In 2010, I began a rather serious study of Shakespeare’s work, and that included watching as many film adaptations as possible, which of course included the 1961 film version of West Side Story. I have to say that I was not all that impressed by the film (it is a mediocre telling of Romeo And Juliet, better than some – such as that horrid 2013 film – and not as good as others). But I did enjoy a lot of the music. So I was certainly curious about the recent release from Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band, West Side Story Reimagined. Unlike the film, this album really does impress me. This Latin jazz version of the music is excellent, and seriously refreshing, with tremendous energy. I liked the music of West Side Story before; now I love it. This is a two-disc album, recorded live in New York on November 19, 2017. This project was conceived by drummer and musical director Bobby Sanabria, but several different people provided the arrangements for various individual songs. You’ll notice that the numbers are presented in a slightly different order from both the play and the film, and that not all of the songs are included here. One other important thing: some of the proceeds from the sale of this album are being donated to the Jazz Foundation of America’s Puerto Rico Relief Fund.

The first disc opens with a brief introduction, welcoming the band. Then “Prologue” begins with some whistling and snapping, as in the original. But then other percussion comes in, and it becomes an exciting jazz piece, particularly in the second half, which features some fantastic playing. This track is dramatic, thrilling, with each instrument providing a strong voice. There is a spoken intro to “Jet Song,” with the song’s famous opening lines, “When you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way/From your first cigarette to your last dying day.” Then the song begins with percussion, and is already much better than the original version. Oh man, this version is pumping with life and energy. Throughout the track, the percussion is what drives the music, the percussion is at its heart. I also dig the way the vocals are presented. I should mention that the entire orchestra shouts out lyrics here, rather than having professional vocalists, and that gives it the feel of a band playing out on the streets, which of course is perfect for the material. It’s like the musicians are the gangs of the play’s story. You can hear the back-and-forth in the way different instruments are used, the way different instruments take prominence at various points. This is one of my favorite tracks.

The introduction to “America” is sadly pertinent, when racism is running rampant, when a white supremacist is occupying the White House: “Everything’s all right in America, if you are all white in America” (the line a slight variation of a line from the song). “America” features some excellent work on bass, as well as on piano. Partway through, it seems the track has come to an end, and the audience applauds. But then some percussion leads into a new section, like snake charmers commanding the crowd’s attention. There is more great percussion in “Gee, Officer Krupke.” The first time I listened to this disc, I thought I was crazy, for the music at times reminded me of the theme from Family Guy. But at the end Bobby Sanabria says “Because he’s a family guy.” So hurrah, I’m not crazy! Things turn romantic with “Tonight.” Well, at least for a while. The song goes through more changes from there. “Dance At The Gym” is here presented as two separate pieces – “Gym Scene – Blues/Mambo” and “Gym Scene – Cha Cha Cha.” The first is arranged by saxophonist Danny Rivera, the second by Nate Sparks.

The second disc opens with “Maria,” which begins with a cool section of vocals and percussion, that feels a bit like a celebration. Then the horns come in, providing what would be the song’s vocal line. Halfway through, there is another section with just percussion, a tribal feel, then with some great little touches on horns. Hand claps rise from this, and the percussion grows in volume, and at the same time the pace picks up. I love this track in large part because of that section, but also because of those wonderful bright bursts of horns. There is a very short introduction to “Cool.” This rendition immediately sounds like its title, and it develops a bright, rather happy sound, particularly in the horns, at moments with a big band swing vibe, never getting too far from that sense of cool, and is a whole lot of fun. Then with “The Rumble/Rumba,” things get exciting and wild and intense. The track does settle down slightly for a moment, with that great rhythm fading a bit into the background, but of course it changes again, that rhythm not being able to hold back for long. And listen to those horns! This one too has a section that is just percussion, which I love. This is certainly one of the highlights for me.

We get into somewhat cheesy territory with “One Hand, One Heart,” the duet that is the marriage ceremony for Maria and Tony. But even this one has moments that are exciting, particularly toward the end with the flute. That’s followed by “Somewhere,” this version having a lot of energy and action. But the part I really love is when the electric violin comes in. There is a spoken introduction to the finale: “In these troubled times that we live in, where we disrespect each other at the drop of a hat, when family members don’t talk to each other for years and years, where even in the closest of marriages the most banal and trivial things explode into anger, and when our government doesn’t even respect its citizens on an island that it calls a territory of the United States, Maestro Bernstein, he certainly had the answer. In this world of violence, hate and ignorance, what will do? We will make even more beautiful music, more beautiful theatre, more beautiful poetry, more beautiful art and more beautiful dance.” Ah, a nice, positive message for these dark days. After “Epilogue/Finale,” the CD concludes with band introductions as the audience applauds.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Intro
  2. Prologue
  3. Intro Jet Song
  4. Jet Song
  5. Intro America
  6. America
  7. Gee, Officer Krupke Intro
  8. Gee, Officer Krupke
  9. Tonight
  10. Gym Scene – Blues/Mambo
  11. Gym Scene – Cha Cha Cha
Disc 2
  1. Maria
  2. Intro Cool
  3. Cool
  4. The Rumble/Rumba
  5. One Hand, One Heart
  6. Somewhere
  7. Intro Epilogue/Finale
  8. Epilogue/Finale
  9. Outro
West Side Story Reimagined was released on July 20, 2018.

1 comment:

  1. The recording in this review is released on Jazzheads. Jazzheads has been releasing great jazz for 25 years.