Dafnis Prieto: Into The Fire

Not only that: A year and a half spent in Barcelona, Spain, followed by his immersion into the New York scene, encouraged Prieto's inclination to absorb as many influences as possible into his work. "Even when there's a kind of music that's not necessarily my favorite, I try to look for something positive to learn from it," he says. "So I got a lot from the Puerto Rican/salsa scene in New York because it's different from the way they do it in Cuba. It's even different from the way they do it in Puerto Rico.

"I'm not a regionalist when it comes to music or anything, for that matter," he elaborates. "We all express music the way we feel it in each particular region. That doesn't make anything better or worse than anything else. It just makes us different, and I like differences. I like the differences between people as much as I like our similarities."

As if tearing down cultural barriers weren't enough of a challenge, Prieto composes mostly in difficult or multiple meters — and he makes it all feel like he and his band are cruising in 4/4. Often, he pulls this off by building everything around a basic motif, which becomes a reference point for listeners even as it might be chopped up or stretched out. On the title cut, "Triangles And Circles," that motif centers on two notes, the I and V, which cut like a lighthouse beam through a turbulent if catchy storm of rhythm.

"It's like in a conversation, where you plant the seed of an idea you want to develop later," Prieto notes. "I try to approach composition in a very organic way, the way it feels at the moment I'm writing. It's what the music asks me to do."

Apparently the music loves asking Prieto to make the complicated seem simple. Asked if he always wanted to push beyond basic time signatures, he replies, "I've always been interested in the beyond of anything. When you do different time signatures, the idea is to make it sound as comfortable as if you were playing in a regular 4/4. You go to India, you go to Pakistan, you go anywhere in the Middle East, and you see kids three years old dancing in 7/4 and 15/8, singing and clapping at the same time."

The same applies as much to soloing as to laying down the rhythm foundation. On "Blah Blah, Blah" Prieto opens with a New Orleans second-line feel, except it's in ... well, why bother to count? Just dig it.

That's what he advises when listening to his long solo spot toward the end, which grooves even as the band stutters and stops behind him. "I try to be conscious of the time signature when I solo, but I'm not counting," he says. "We're not supposed to be counting; we're supposed to be singing, with the music inside. When I'm playing the drums, I'm not thinking about drums only. I'm singing the melody.

"On 'Blah Blah' I just follow the bass line. I've internalized it, so I can play with it on and off, coming in and out freely rather than getting lost in the meter. Rather than count in 7, I'd want to learn a bass line in 7 that inspires me to interact with it. When you internalize it, you own it. So my advice to drummers is: Don't count. Sing!"

VITALS

Band Dafnis Prieto Sextet
Current Release Triangles And Circles
Website dafnisonmusic.com
Age 41
Birthplace Santa Clara, Cuba
Influences Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Changuito

GEAR

Drums Yamaha
Cymbals Sabian
Heads Evans
Sticks Vic Firth
Hardware Yamaha Percussion, Latin Percussion

Page 2 of 2