Accomplished jazz drummer Dafnis Prieto jams out Hewitt Union

MacArthur Fellow Dafnis Prieto and his Sí o Sí Quartet brought Latin Jazz melodies and harmonies to Oswego State.  (Photo provided by Taylor Clock)
MacArthur Fellow Dafnis Prieto and his Sí o Sí Quartet brought Latin Jazz melodies and harmonies to Oswego State. (Photo provided by Taylor Clock)

On Sept. 23 Latin-influenced drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto came to Hewitt Ballroom to put on a world-class show for a packed house. A question- and-answer session followed the concert.

Prieto came to campus during the ALANA Leadership Conference. As a part of his visit to campus, Prieto visited the music department’s jazz composition and arranging class, taught by jazz and Latin music expert at Oswego State, Eric Schmitz. He discussed his compositional technique and process, as well as treating the class to some raw recordings of his sextet. Prieto also talked at a meeting in Hart Hall later that day.

Prieto, a world-renowned percussionist, also has the distinction of actually being a certified genius. Preisto recently received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation for half a million dollars to use at his discretion.

At the concert itself, Prieto and his Sí o Sí Quartet had an elaborate setup with an extended stage in the ballroom. His quartet, with other world-class musicians Roman Filiu on alto and soprano saxophone, Manuel Valera on piano and Johannes Weidenmueller on double and electric bass were showered in different colored lighting, spotlights and a wide assortment of speakers and monitors.

Prieto’s music is incredibly rhythmic, with intricate patterns that are imitated and overlapping within all the parts. Interestingly, the rhythms did not make the audience want to groove. Rather, the audience was captivated by the intricacy. Melodies were driving and specific, aside from the set’s lone slower number.

Prieto’s music has a characteristic feel, in that his pieces typically feature changing meters, usually with a grouping in one meter, and then at the end of the phrase it changes to another meter. The pieces also feature B sections with another change in meter or feel. The first piece, named Sí o Sí, which led the quartet’s name, featured this extensively; with the meter changes and a B section in a grooving two feel.

Later in the concert, Prieto described how the clavé patterns of Latin music also strongly influenced his work, while introducing the second piece of the set, which he named Clavé Téo, to dedicate it to the clavé rhythm.

The group also worked incredibly well together. Prieto was the only one without music, but the group handled the changes in form and rhythm with incredible skill. Communication between the musicians was great to see as an audience member, as the quartet often exchanged looks when the form changed, or something did not exactly go according to plan.

Highlights of the night included Prieto’s soloing, which was so full of differing and changing ideas that prompted the other members of the quartet to look at him in amazement. He seemed to be creating more sounds than his hands and feet appeared to be making. He used the whole drum set and used the side of the drums and the rims, as well as a technique to play the snare and hi-hat simultaneously. In the second to last piece, Filiu switched to soprano sax, but his instrument malfunctioned, and he had to finish the piece playing his alto.

Prieto gave his final goodbye with clavés in his hand. He was playing a pattern while talking and smoothly switched into a groove on the clavés and vocal percussion before he started the final number.

It was a great start to the Artswego Concert series and a mind-blowing first concert for Hewitt Ballroom.