Paquito D’Rivera – Panamericana Suite

Paquito D’Rivera’s masterful blending of Afro-Cuban jazz with classical and tango goes a long way to carving out his identity as a musician, but it sure doesn’t cover all the bases. His latest recording, the spirited Panamericana Suite, goes a little further in identifying the prolific and proficient artist as a Cuban-born alto saxophonist and clarinetist absolutely in love with grooving and swinging deep into the cool night.

Panamericana Suite was recorded live at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild for MCG Jazz in April of 2008. The crowd laps up every tidbit of sweetly-spiced music D’Rivera and his all-star international band supplies, fondly appreciating the eight cuts featured on the record.

D’Rivera is joined by an extensive cast of wonderful musicians, including Pedro Martinez (batas, timbales, vocals), Oscar Stagnaro (bass), Mark Walker (bass), and Pernell Saturnino (percussion) as part of his ever-ready rhythm section. Other artists include Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda and pianist Alon YavnaiDave Samuels supplies superb energy on the vibraphone and marimba.

A lot of live recordings miss out on conveying the passion of the players, but Panamericana Suite really conveys the vibe of the show with precision. The mix is sturdy and each instrumentalist shines through as a part of the broader whole.

Of course, none of this magic would be possible without D’Rivera’s enticing compositions and arrangements. We’re hit with his extensive mastery right out of the box with “Waltz for Moe,” a melodic and hearty piece that lets Samuels introducing his captivating vibes.

“Tojo” is a roaring example of the muscle of percussion. The soloing towards the end of the piece is marvellous, with the steel pans of Andy Narell working overtime with Walker’s insistent drums.

The magnificent title track introduces soprano Brenda Feliciano and vocalist Pedro Martinez to the proceedings. Feliciano’s range takes the piece on a whirlwind circuit of operatic and South American traditions, while D’Rivera’s axe chops away and adds further funky layers. The intricate pulse adds to the volatility of the beautiful number, creating an experience that is at once soothing and stunning.

Yavnai gets his hands dirty with a delightfully frisky piano solo on “Fiddle Dreams.” D’Rivera’s clarinet is the perfect cohort, picking up on the seemingly scattershot notes and pressing forward into something more solid as the two part ways. Stagnaro follows up, grounding the piece even more.

By the time Feliciano is brought back around to close out the record with the radiant “Song for Peace,” I knew I’d have to hit that repeat button a few times to gather the full sense of Panamericana Suite.

This is an album that is immediately listenable, but it also provides a lot more beneath the surface. The interplay between these musicians is enthralling and D’Rivera’s instinctive diversity allows him to glide into virtually any style with polish and command. Backed by tremendous players, he is a musician and composer of detail, poise and energy.

Article originally published as Music Review: Paquito D’Rivera – Panamericana Suite at


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