Like his countryman Pedrito Martinez (also appearing at Newport this year), drummer Dafnis Prieto came over from Cuba around the turn of the century — promptly placing every rhythm section in New York City on notice. His next-level understanding of the clave, combined with his seeming willingness to try anything that grooves, led to his nomination as a MacArthur Fellow last year. That cast of mind powering a sextet with horns will prove volatile, as it did on his 2008 album Taking The Soul For A Walk.
The great drummer turns 70 during the week following the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival, but he's certainly not going quietly into retirement age. Lately, he's been leading a quintet which combines a brilliant saxophonist fluent in South Asian music (Rudresh Mahanthappa), an electric guitarist known for microtonal experiments (Dave Fiuczynski) and the combination of keyboards (George Colligan) and acoustic bass guitar (Jerome Harris). DeJohnette was with Miles Davis at Newport in 1969; good to know he hasn't lost his mentor's adventurous spirit.
Since he came over from Cuba around the turn of the century, the phenomenally talented percussionist Pedrito Martinez has become the conguero of choice for scores of bands. And most weeks in New York City, you can see him with his own, gigging several nights a week at a Cuban restaurant south of Central Park. The Pedrito Martinez Group places him at the congas and behind a microphone, where he exhibits a certain natural charisma. And though we haven't yet heard a studio album from the band, we already know that it goes way beyond what you'd think of Afro-Cuban music and/or jazz.
The tenor saxophonist John Ellis is a commanding instrumentalist with a most gorgeous, carmelized tone. And though he now lives in New York, his band gives away the fact that he learned an awful lot in New Orleans. A chunk of Double-Wide lives there — notably, Matt Perrine (sousaphone) and Jason Marsalis (drums) — and the Crescent City's carnivalesque and high-stepping timbres are refracted through Ellis' tunes. You can take the boy out of the South, but you can't take the South out of his musical vision.
Viola da gamba players are a special breed — a tiny subset in the already small world of early classical music. They rarely meet their own kind, but once a year they come together for a week in July at an annual jam session they call a conclave. Wendy Gillespie, who just finished her term as president of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, says attending the event is the highlight of her year.