Hearing a jazz group led by a drummer always creates a certain amount of apprehension. Armed with an arsenal of percussive firepower, will the leader simply use it to create an evening dominated by one dreaded drum solo after another?
Fortunately, there are other models to follow -- utterly fascinating drumming templates such as the ones provided by Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, who found layers of subtlety in styles galvanized with dynamic energy. Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, whose quintet performs this week at the Jazz Bakery, has clearly used both as starting points for his own innovative style.
In Wednesday's opening set, Prieto, like Jones, laid down a complex tapestry of sound. His drumming sprang from clave-based traditional Cuban rhythms rather than the American swing and blues that influenced Jones and was enhanced by the sort of surging, free-flowing percussive stream that Billy Higgins once generated with the Ornette Coleman quartet. It was busy, to be sure, but fascinating nonetheless -- clear evidence that jazz players with the capacity to move beyond the relative stylistic stasis of the last decade or so are arriving on the scene.
Prieto's playing was the most significant element in a set that also offered sterling improvising from the two-saxophone front line of alto and soprano player Yosvany Terry and Peter Apfelbaum with powerful backing from pianist Osmany Paredes and bassist Yunior Terry. Add to that Prieto's compositions -- "Ironico Arlequin" (played by the rhythm trio without the horns) and a climactic "Dafnis' Blues," featuring a whipsaw improvisation from Yosvany Terry -- and the evening was complete, a superb display of 21st century jazz at its finest.