“Snazzy is what comes to mind here. With never a dull moment to harsh your vibe, this is going to take you to the groovy Latin jazz club in your mind where gringos are always welcome.”
SOCRATES GARCIA LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA Back Home: A Dominican cat now teaching in Colorado rounds up a slew of great soloists to join forces under the penumbra of his big band for a trip back to the mother land to lay down an easy going but high energy mash up of Afro-Caribe jazz/dance music that’ll get you whether you like to get up and shake it or sit and listen. Snazzy is what comes to mind here. With never a dull moment to harsh your vibe, this is going to take you to the groovy Latin jazz club in your mind where gringos are always welcome. Check it out.
Jazz Mostly by Bruce Crowther
Connections with Latin music go back to the earliest years of jazz (Jelly Roll Morton’s ‛Latin tinge’ comes readily to mind) and there have long been big band links. Among these have been Frank Grillo, Maria Bauza, Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie. A significant figure today is Socrates Garcia, who was born in the Dominican Republic, which is where he first played guitar but was diverted into an engineering career. Fortunately, that did not last and he decided that music was to be his life. While playing rock and pop, he also studied extensively in America, including spells at the Grove School, Luther College, and universities in Tennessee and Colorado. These studies ranged widely, incorporating classical music but also generating an interest in big band jazz. On this album, Socrates presents his Latin Jazz Orchestra playing his own compositions, which includes his Dominican Suite. The musicians here come from America (recorded at University of Northern Carolina where Socrates is Director of Music Technology) and from the Dominican Republic (recorded at MIDILAB studies, where he had worked as an engineer). All the music on this fine set is exhilarating and played with verve by the band ably demonstrating that big band Latin jazz is alive and well.
Musical Memoirs by Dee Dee McNeil
Socrates Garcia, composer/arranger/conductor/producer/guitar; Manuel Tejada, piano; Pengbian Sang, bass; Steve Kovalcheck, guitar; Helen De La Rosa, drums; Felix “Abuelo” Garcia, tambura, congas, atabales & vocals; Rafael Almengod, atabales, tambu; Josue Reynoso, guira; Otoniel Nicolas, timbales; Wil Swindler, alto, soprano, flute; Briana Harris, alto, flute; Kenyon Brenner, tenor, flute, clarinet; Brielle Frost, flute; Joel Harris, tenor, clarinet; Ryan Middagh, baritone, bass clarinet; Brad Goode, Dave Rajewski, Jordan Skomal, Miles Roth, Trumpets/flugalhorns; Joe Chisholm, Frank Cook, Jonathan Zimny, & Guillermo Rivera: Trombones; Gary Mayne, bass trombone; Hovernys Santana, Lia Nova & Rafael Almengod, vocals.
This recording is smart, well arranged and mixed to perfection. The percussion stands out as strong as the horn lines and draws me in from the very first few bars. All the music on this project is composed, arranged and conducted by Socrates Garcia. Believe me, the arrangements are dynamic and beautiful. The orchestration is lush and the musicians are masterfully articulate.
Garcia claims his music to be “autobiographical” as in “… a point of arrival and departure, arriving to a place where I could combine my heritage with the aesthetics of jazz; departure, towards a promising future for this symbiotic relationship.”
On “Vantage Point,” stewing in ‘merengue’ and allowing Felix ‘Abuelo’ Garcia to flex his percussive muscles, I am hooked. The rhythms are contagious and make me want to dance and celebrate life. Garcia brings his Dominican Republic roots to the party. The musicians sparkle like stars over the cities of Santo Domingo or Santiago de los Caballeros. Each song has a generous story included in the linear notes to explain what prompted that particular composition. There is mention of ‘bachata’ being a type of music currently accepted worldwide that grew, like the USA blues, from the underground. For many years, bachata was considered a second-class music. It is represented prominently in the title tune, “Back Home” that Garcia claims is a brief journey through his musical career. He has bridged cultures, using pillars of Heavy Metal, Dominican folk music and jazz to support his extravagantly structured arrangements and compositions. Because of the clarity of this recording, I must give credit to Garcia and Greg Heimbecker for their mixologist expertise and to Heimbecker for the final mastering; beautifully executed!
Socrates Garcia is the Director of Music Technology at University of Northern Colorado where he teaches courses in Music Technology, Digital Composition and Recording Techniques. This is also where he recorded this project. Dr. Garcia’s credits include the album Yo Por Ti by Puerto Rican artist Olga Tañon, Grammy Award winner of Merengue Album of the Year 2001; musical director/keyboardist for Los Ilegales in their 1997-1998 Latin American tour; keyboardist for multi-Grammy winner Juan Luis Guerra; and guest performer with the Dominican Republic’s National Symphony Orchestra, among others. His first solo CD titled “Suenos”, was released in 2005. This contemporary jazz big band project is bound to be another feather in the cap of a scholar and creative genius who brings multi-culture and flair to the big band stage. You can find Scores/Parts available at http://www.uncjazzpress.com.”
Latin Jazz Network by Raul daGama
Michel Camilo is the most celebrated son of the Dominican Republic – culturally at any rate. But far away in the great halls of the University of Northern Colorado is Socrates Garcia, titular head of Music Technology. This is a rather obscure title for a doctor of music, and more than that, a guitarist, composer, arranger and conductor of the University of Northern Colorado Latin Jazz Band. It is these fine players , augmented by a remarkable group of musicians from the Dominican Republic, who have formed this Latin Jazz Orchestra, musicians who have performed Garcia’s music on Back Home. This performance includes Garcia’s ambitious extended piece, Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra.
There have been many albums performed by university students not only from the US, but from other parts of the world. What sets this band apart is its ability to read the very complex scores of Garcia’s music. They are difficult, requiring great concentration because of the Palos, Atabales and the relatively unexplored Bachata traditional forms that have been melded into the jazz – and, at times, rock – aspects of the compositions. Most challenging of all is the great speed at which this music must be played and the rapidity of the rhythmic changes as well as its demanding melodic twists and turns. These, therefore, are musicians who must be extremely well-schooled. But what about musical invention and the ability to improvise on chord changes? The proof of that is in the soli that inform all of the pieces. There is precious little space to name all of the soloists. You must buy the disc and refer to the back of the inlay card for that. There is no praise high enough for them.
But one musician gets mentioned briefly in Garcia’s notes and only in the personnel listing. She is the drummer, Helen De La Rosa. Not only has De La Rosa been assigned a role seemingly tucked between the woodwinds, brass and the rest of the rhythm section, but she has to share percussion duties with the percussionists, the Bachata drummers from the Dominican Republic. What she does with her trap set is truly remarkable. Nestling cheek-by-jowl with the Dominican drummers De La Rosa carves out a space for herself. She is erudite, plays with extraordinary precision and yet invents rhythmic figures behind and ahead of the complex beat. Drumming like this is worthy of notice. Listen to her on Back Home and throughout the Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra. (Not that she is not brilliant in the rest of the repertoire), but in these pieces De La Rosa give a fine account of herself.
Celebration of the Butterflies is a gorgeous piece and must share the honours with the Dominican Suite. Socrates Garcia’s notes describe the antecedents of the composition. I do not normally read notes before listening to the music. This way, I allow for the music to speak for itself first. Upon listening to Celebration of the Butterflies I was intrigued because of the manner in which the music ‘became’ the title. It is a heartbreaking story. It deals with the assassination of the Mirabel sisters by Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the brutal dictator of the Dominican Republic. The day of these martyrs has since come to be known as the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women. Apart from this historic note, Celebration of the Butterflies is a soaring piece about the triumph of human endeavour. It also shares the honours of this wonderful album.
Jersey Jazz by Joe Lang
“Back Home (MAMA Records – 1050) by the SOCRATES GARCIA LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA, while flavored with the sounds and rhythms of Garcia’s native Dominican Republic, is more a straightforward modern big band album than a “Latin Jazz” album. Garcia teaches at the University of Northern Colorado. For this program of original selections by Garcia, he gathered a blend of UNC students, Colorado musicians and players from the Dominican Republic to form a tight-knit unit that brings out the joy in his charts. The horns and rhythm section were recorded at UNC, while the percussion section and vocals were recorded in the Dominican Republic. The music is nicely appealing, blending the Dominican bachata and merengue styles with modern jazz conceptions to create a program that should appeal to both Latin Jazz enthusiasts and those who dig big band music. Back Home should make you feel comfortable no matter where home is. (www.mamajazz.com)”
Blogcritics by Jack Goodstein
Socrates Garcia explains in the liner notes to his group’s February release, Back Home, that the album has him “arriving to a place where I could combine my heritage with the aesthetics of jazz” and move that combination “towards a promising future for this symbiotic relationship.” Although the idea of creating such a symbiotic relationship may not be particularly new, Dominican-born Garcia and his Latin Jazz Orchestra bring it to life with dynamic force. Back Home is top of the line big band Latin jazz.
The seven-track album, all composed and arranged by Garcia, begins with the high voltage “Vantage Point,” a tune based on the merengue that runs close to nine minutes. It features Ryan Middagh on the baritone sax and pianist Manuel Tejada as well as some real energy from the percussion section. This is followed by “Calle El Conde a Las 8:00,” a composition that celebrates the liveliness of what the composer remembers as a vibrant cultural neighborhood of his youth. Will Swindler on soprano sax and Jordan Skomal on trumpet capture the essence of the local scene.
The tenor sax of Kenyon Brenner highlights both “Celebration of the Butterflies,” a salute to the Mirabal sisters – anti-Trujillo activists assassinated in 1960 and the subjects of the novel and later the film In the Time of the Butterflies – and the album’s title song.
Back Home closes with a three-part suite entitled “Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra,” a major piece much in the tradition of the famed big band suites of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The first part is “Homage to Tavito.” Tavito Vasquez is a saxophonist, Garcia explains, revered as the “Charlie Parker of the Caribbean.” Garcia uses it as an opportunity to explore the symbiotic union of bebop and the merengue.
“Bachata for Two” follows. The bachata is a genre born in the countryside of the Dominican Republic and sometime disparaged by the elites as peasant music. Garcia and the orchestra demonstrate the folly of disparaging any musical genre. “From Across the Street” concludes the album. It is the only track which includes a bit of vocal work. It is based on Garcia’s memories of a woman from his infancy who used to play a percussion-dominated Dominican folk music called palo (or atabales).
The suite provides a fine conclusion to Socrates Garcia’s jazz-soaked tribute to his homeland.
AXS by Carol Banks Weber
When Dominican native Socrates Garcia takes hold of his 20-plus-piece Latin Jazz Orchestra, the effect is that of a spectacular live performance out in the open at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival in the middle of a gladiator summer and right on the shores of breathtaking Lake Geneva…His Latin Jazz Orchestra raises up jazz and merengue through the sophisticated palette of big band orchestration and the lowdown, sensuous intrigue of the dance music inherent in both. All without ego.
Improvijazzation Nation by Dick Metcalf
“I give Socrates and his players a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for this great jazz release; “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.98.”
“Socrates Garcia – BACK HOME: To simply state that this is “tasty Latin jazz” would not do justice to the vibrant energy that Mr. Garcia is able to project through his masterful compositions on tunes like the fabulous opener, the 8:39 “Vantage Point“… the liner notes say that his music is “tinged” with the colors of the Caribbean – more like “fully applied”… I just loved the way this tune expresses such vigor for life and the living of it! He also plays guitar on the title track, “Back Home“… one of the liveliest tunes I’ve listened to (yet) in 2016! It was the percussion and total integration of all the players/instruments on “Celebration of the Butterflies” that made it my personal favorite of the seven extended compositions.. it’s a tribute to three sisters who rebelled against the tyranny of the Trujillo regime (back in the day), and expresses just the right amount of “forward-looking” with “attitude” that’s needed to make a tune most memorable. I give Socrates and his players a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for this great jazz release; “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.98.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ by Jack Bowers
“Not only is Back Home a near-perfect blend of Dominican and American music, it stands tall on its own as a superlative example of big-band jazz at its best.”
Back Home, the debut recording by composer / arranger / musicologist Socrates Garcia’s Latin Jazz Orchestra, combines the best of two worlds: ardent Latin jazz that never forswears its roots, and emphatic American-designed big-band swing that provides a solid framework for Garcia’s picturesque Latin / American excursions. Garcia, who was born in the Dominican Republic, is director of Music Technology at the University of Northern Colorado, and Back Home, it seems, represents more a state of mind than any physical locale, even though there are brief stops at “Calle el Conde” and “From Across the Street” in Garcia’s native land, the last a part of the three-movement “Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra.”
Garcia’s compositions (he wrote and arranged every number on the album) are lively and effervescent, easily bridging whatever gap, real or imagined, that may exist between American jazz and the music of his homeland. While Latin rhythms predominate, the more well-known samba, bossa and tango are supplanted by Dominican cadences such as the bachata and merengue. As for Garcia’s sidemen, most of whom call Colorado home, their mastery of his blueprint is such that they might easily be misread as emigres from Garcia’s birthplace. An exception is the all-Dominican rhythm section, comprised of pianist Manuel Tejada, bassist Pengbian Sang and drummer Helen De La Rosa (with an assist from percussionists Felix “Abuelo” Garcia, Rafael Almengod, Josue Reynoso and Otoniel Nicolas). Guitarist Steve Kovalchek is added on “Celebration of the Butterflies,” and Garcia plays guitar on “Back Home.”
The album’s centerpiece and inspiration is the colorful “Dominican Suite,” which opens with a sharply drawn “Tribute to Tavito” (identified by Garcia as saxophonist Tavito Vasquez, known as “the Charlie Parker of the Caribbean”). As SuperSax did for Parker, Garcia has embedded one of Vasquez’s solos as part of the composition. The second movement, “Bachata for Two,” akin to a Latin waltz, was written for Garcia’s wife, Wanda, while the third, “From Across the Street,” recalls folk music—called Palos or Atabales—performed by a woman who lived across the street from Garcia’s home in the Dominican Republic and is the only track on the album with vocals (by a suitably well-spoken quartet). The opening number, “Vantage Point,” is a bracing merengue whose charming melody and addictive rhythms give way to canny solos by Tejada and baritone saxophonist Ryan Middagh. The vivacious “Calle el Conde a Las 8:00,” whose bright solos are by soprano Wil Swindler and trumpeter Jordan Skomal, precedes the earnest “Celebration of the Butterflies,” Garcia’s homage to the three Mirabel sisters who were assassinated by dictator Rafael Trujillo’s government for their opposition to his regime. Tenor Kenyon Brenner is showcased on “Butterflies,” as he is on “Back Home.” Another splendid soloist, trumpeter Brad Goode, is front and center on “Bachata for Two” and shares the spotlight with Tejada on “Homage to Tavito.”
Not only is Back Home a near-perfect blend of Dominican and American music, it stands tall on its own as a superlative example of big-band jazz at its best. Well done, Socrates.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ by Mark Sullivan
“Composer Socrates Garcia leads a big band and is also responsible for arrangements and conducting. Garcia is a native of the Dominican Republic, but is currently Director of Musical Technology at the University of Northern Colorado (certainly not the first place I’d think of as a center of Dominican jazz, but the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes).
Socrates Garcia takes a journey back to his musical roots on the aptly-titled Back Home. He composed, arranged, conducted and produced the album (in addition to playing guitar on one track). The CD was recorded in two countries: the horns and the Dominican rhythm section were recorded in the U.S., while the percussion and vocals were recorded in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican recording studio was the same one he used to work at, making those sessions a literal homecoming.
The autobiographical aspect of the project is carried through in the song titles and stylistic choices. “Vantage Point” is based on the most emblematic Dominican genre, merengue, and features soloists Ryan Middagh (baritone sax) and Manuel Tejada (piano). “Calle el Conde a Las 8:00” is named for the historic street frequented by Garcia as a youth, a hub of artistic activity. Soloists are soprano saxophonist Wil Swindler’s Elevenet and trumpeter Jordan Skomal. “Celebration of the Butterflies” is a hommage to the slain protesters the Mirabal sisters, and by extension a voice for non-violence against women. Kenyon Brenner solos on tenor sax, and guest guitarist Steve Kovalcheck turns in a memorable jazz guitar solo as well. The title tune is based on the bachata, a musical style developed in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. Garcia’s musical autobiography is encapsulated in its merger of bachata, jazz, and a bit of rock music (with Garcia himself providing the guitar).
The program closes with the most ambitious piece, the three part “Dominican Suite For Jazz Orchestra.” Some of this music was composed as part of his Doctoral dissertation, and was the inspiration to record this CD. “Homage to Tavito” salutes saxophonist Tavito Vasquez, the “Charlie Parker of the Caribbean” who combined bebop with merengue. No saxophone solo, but the spirit is evoked by trumpeter Brad Goode and Tejada’s piano. “Bachata For Two” honors Garcia’s wife Wanda, including another solo from Goode. “From Across the Street” is the only vocal selection on the album. By far the most folkloric sounding track, it evokes the Dominican folk music called Palos or Atabales, which includes heavy drumming and singing. In addition to the group of singers and drummers that begin the piece, it features Swindler’s soprano sax and tambu drum soloist Rafael Almengod.
The Jazz Page Raves by D. Glenn Daniels
“The melding of the sounds and the writing make this just a fantastic recording.”
For composer-arranger-conductor Socrates Garcia, this production is an autobiographical tapestry. Back Home pays tribute to Garcia’s experiences growing in his native Dominican Republic. Each of the wonderfully written works are an homage to people and places in the Caribbean island that influenced his life. The tunes are rich with percussive Afro-Latin rhythms and lush horn arrangements. The horn section is comprised of outstanding woodwind, trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone sections, while the percussion unit includes congas, atables, guira, and timbal, all backed by an excellent 5-piece rhythm section. There are also vocals included on of the tracks. The melding of the sounds and the writing make this just a fantastic recording.
JazzWeekly by George Harris
“Do any of these guys also play baseball?!?”
While there are not question and answer periods here, bandleader Socrates Garcia does an excellent job of justifying the epistemology of a big band, as he directs the 23 member unit through a collection of rich and exciting music based on his Dominican background.
The four member rhythm team of Manuel Tejada/p, Pengian Sang/b, Steve Kovalcheck/g and Helen De La Rosa is accentuated by four percussionists who contribute traditional sounds and grooves, adding extra spice into the mix. The team dances to a gallop on “Vantage Point” as Ryan Middagh’s baritone sax and Manuel Tejada’s piano deliver rich solos. Kenyon Brenner’s tenor breezes over the sizzling piano on the gentle “Back Home” which also includes the leader on guitar, while some wonderful ebbs and flows from the reeds and brass are contrasted over the rustling percussion on “Homage to Tavito” as the band closes with a charging “From Across the Street” which includes Rafael Almengod’s tambo to take you to the village festival. Do any of these guys also play baseball?!?
Roberta on the Arts by Roberta Zlokower
“Back Home, is a must-have for serious Latin Jazz aficionados.”
This CD is, with more than two dozen musicians collaborating, is an album of seven Latin Jazz Big Band tunes, all composed by Socrates Garcia. This project is also a tribute to the Dominican Republic, where Garcia was born. Garcia, now Director of Music Technology at the University of Northern Colorado, also includes a three-track Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra, with “Homage to Tavito”, “Bachata for Two”, and “From Across the Street”. These three tunes, respectively, pay homage to a Dominican musician who merged bebop with merengue, to Garcia’s wife, and to the vocal and percussive Dominican folk music. I recall my own trip to Santo Domingo and the live dance bands I experienced, and Garcia has expertly synthesized the essence of the merengue and other Dominican musical genres with full big band jazz. Garcia recorded this album in Colorado and in the Dominican Republic, with highly sophisticated production expertise. You’ll want to listen to these tracks multiple times for the exotic rhythms and vibrant orchestrations.
All music composed, arranged, and conducted by Socrates Garcia.
#2 – Calle El Conde a las 8:00 – This magnetic track opens with sharp, vivacious congas and bubbly, racy brass. The rhythmic fever continues throughout, transporting the listener to Santo Domingo. Piano flash and flourish endure in the mambo, clavé tempos. The trumpets mimic horns honking on this Dominican street, whose name is the title of the tune. Impressive sax and horn solos emanate in tropical pulse. This street was Garcia’s go-to shopping venue for record stores that sold Afro-Caribbean music. The rhythms are raucous and charged, as mambo dance clubs come to mind.
#4 – Back Home – This title tune fills an energized, big band track, dedicated to the bachata, a 1960’s Dominican music form. A melodic piano solo introduces the full, orchestral theme, with two saxophone solos. This is not an album that features one or two musicians, but rather an album with a refined, substantial cadre of straightforward jazz and Latin artists whose collaboration creates a transformative listening experience. If you play this track two, three times, you’ll hear nuanced details with astounding tonalities.
#5 – Homage to Tavito – This first of three tracks that become Garcia’s Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra is an homage to the musician considered to be the “Charlie Parker of the Caribbean”. Soft, rapid Latin percussion opens for the big band, as it showcases its instrumental grandeur. Drums, horns, and reeds shift attention to an incandescent piano and racing sax solo, evocative of Parker himself. The technological mastery in producing this new album is certainly appreciated when listening to this Suite.
#7 – From Across the Street – The sultry ensemble of street vocals and steel percussion will transport you to Dominican folk music. There’s a West African motif inherent in the sound, as well. You won’t resist swaying to the rambunctious rhythms. This final track of Garcia’s Suite is inspirational and spellbinding. A superb, extended sax solo gives way to whistles, congas, guiro, and timbal, with a second round of vocals sealing the authentic folk aura. Socrates Garcia’s new album, Back Home, is a must-have for serious Latin Jazz aficionados.
The Jazz Owl by Travis Rogers, Jr.
“Back Home is an energetic, charming, sensory, and revealing album.”
“Garcia shows us what home is for him. And it is sweet.”
Back Home (MAMA Records MAA1050) is Socrates Garcia’s debut album and it filled with the “Latin Jazz with a Dominican tinge” that one would hope to find on this great Dominican composer’s album. It has been called “a musical journey back to his roots” and that description is spot-on with the bachata and merengue styles so evident here. Every piece on the album was composed, arranged, conducted and produced by Garcia.
This is a fine big band with over 20 musicians contributing to the grand sound. The rhythm section is at the core with Manuel Tejada (piano), Pengbian Snag (bass), Helen De La Rosa (drums) and guitarists Steve Kovalcheck (on Celebration of the Butterflies) and Socrates Garcia ( on Back Home). Percussionists include Felix “Abuelo” Garcia (tambura, congas, atabales), Rafael Alemgod (atabales, tambu), Josue Reynoso (guira) and Otoniel Nicolas (timbales). The woodwinds list Wil Swindler (alto and soprano saxophones and flute), Briana Harris (alto sax and flute), Kenyon Brennier (tenor sax, flute and clarinet) and Ryan Middagh (baritone and bass clarinet). The trumpets and flugelhorns include Brad Goode, Dave Rajewski, Jordan Skomal, and Miles Roth. Trombones are Joe Chisholm, Frank Cook, Jonathan Zimny, Guillermo Rivera, and Gary Mayne (bass trombone). Quite a corps!
Garcia calls the album “in a way autobiographical and…a ‘dream come true’ to record it.” Garcia said of the album that it was “an arrival and a departure.” He was arriving at a place where he “could combine my heritage and the aesthetics of Jazz; departure, towards a promising future for this symbiotic relationship.” All of that is evident from the opening bars.
The album opens with Vantage Point, based on the merengue style. Once considered the music of the poor, it was elevated to national music during the dictatorship of Trujillo. Now Garcia has deepened the music with Jazz arrangements and rhythms.
It is those rhythms that are encountered first followed by the woodwinds and horns. The motif is a cool hook and the horns and winds expand it masterfully. The brilliance of the composition and arrangement is clearly seen at every stage of the whole album.
Ryan Middagh on the baritone sax has great lines and Manuel Tejada is a fine choice on the piano. The first track alone will turn you into a Tejada fan. The whole rhythm section and percussionists are extraordinary. In front of it all is Socrates Garcia, composer and conductor. This is a beautifully written piece. Merengue never sounded so good.
Calle El Conde a Las 8:00 is a remembrance of the street where Garcia grew up in the Dominican Republic. It is the street where Garcia would fall in love with Afro-Caribbean music. Wil Swindler’s soprano sax is sweet and Jordan Skomal gets a warm trumpet solo. The whole winds and horns section are stunningly precise and the delivery is phenomenal. Pay special attention to Helen De La Rosa’s drums.
Celebration of the Butterflies is rooted in the resistance movement against Trujillo. The three Mirabal Sisters were murdered by Trujillo’s assassins on November 25, 1960. The sisters were called “The Butterflies.” The United Nations chose this day as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It also represents Garcia’s “own voice on violence against women.”
Sometimes it takes a rallying song to make things happen. In 1981, Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday rallied people in support of making the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. In 1987, Hugh Masakela released Bring Him Back Home to speak out for the release of Nelson Mandela. And, of course, who could ever forget We Shall Overcome as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.
The song opens with a cool three-note motif that creates a perfect groove line. The saxes and horns push the aggressive line with the rhythm section. Kenyon Brenner’s tenor sax solo is excellent bouncing above Tejada’s piano backing. Steve Kovalcheck’s guitar is lively.
It is a beautiful choice—to celebrate them with upbeat and lively measures—and to rejoice in what the resistance created. It is not, therefore, a remembrance to the hatred and ferocity of Trujillo but is, rather, a celebration of life, liberty and love. So well-done.
Back Home is founded on the bachata style which was created in 1960s Dominican Republic. Pianist Manuel Tejada was one of the true developers of the style into something orchestrated and refined. Garcia builds on Tejada’s innovations from the 1990s and merges bachata and Jazz.
The opening Tejada piano lines are fluid and beautiful. Kenyon Brenner again is featured on the tenor sax to lush and lyrical effect. The woodwinds create a swirling, eddying imagery that must remind Garcia of the beaches and breezes of home. The dancing, dreaming, delicious life of the Caribbean is summed up so well, with the promise of something more to come.
The future is declared in the tightly knit big band Jazz that Garcia has written and arranged. At some points, near-Fusion/Rock erupts until the traditional bachata themes reappear, reminding us that the future always has a past that is often rich and always inescapable.
The last three pieces collectively comprise Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra. The first movement is called Homage to Tavito in tribute to Tavito Vasquez, the man called the “Charlie Parker of the Caribbean.”
The quick percussion sets up the trumpet of Brad Goode and Tejada on piano. The Bebop mixes coolly with the merengue and this thing just smokes. Goode’s muted trumpet is a hit and Tejada works the piano splendidly. It is no wonder that Garcia, in the liner notes, thanks Don Fortner “for keeping the piano in top shape So manual could destroy it over those two days.”
Helen De La Rosa is masterful on the drums and steals a good bit of the spotlight. Still, the whole band turns in a fantastic performance of a terrifically-written song.
The second movement is Bachata for Two and is dedicated to his wife of over 13 years, Wanda. It is a much more emotional piece than Neil Young’s Kinda fond o’ Wanda. [I don’t know why I included that except that it made me laugh.]
The gorgeous piano introduction is joined by the winds and horns with percussion. The dance imagery speaks of their dance through life and music—although Garcia admits that he is not a good dancer! The big band horns and winds are electrifying and Brad Goode’s trumpet solo takes on a sweeter tone in fine phrasing.
The final movement is also the only vocal piece on the album. From Across the Street is sung by Hovernys Santana, Felix Garcia, Lia Nova and Rafael Almengod.
Contained in the liner notes is Garcia’s remembrance of the subject of the piece. It bears repeating for your pleasure. He writes, “When I was 3 or 4, there was a woman, Martina, who lived across the street from my house. On certain holidays she used to play a genre of Dominican folk music called Palos or Atabales. It includes heavy drumming, singing, and usually large amounts of alcohol. The rhythms and the singing always fascinated me but at the same time it always seemed to scare me to see this big woman playing those gigantic drums (at least that’s what I remember being probably 2 feet tall). All of those memories gave me the idea to include this genre and intertwine it with Jazz.” The lyrics agree with that impression.
Del otro lado de la calle From across the street
Yo puedo oir I can hear
Del otro lado de la calle From across the street
Puedo sentir I can feel
Como suenan los tambores The way the drums sound
Como suenan to’ los cueros The way the skin drumheads sound
Como suenan toa’ las voces The way the voices sound
Como suenan los panderos The way the panderos sound
Como suenan, Como suenan The way (all of it) sounds
Como suenan, Como suenan The way (all of it) sounds
This finale opens with the heavy drumming joined by the voices. Gorgeous. The big band takes over from the voices and it is glorious. The percussion is riveting even into the soprano sax solo of Wil Swindler who creates a fine melodic line that is quick and alive. Rafael Almengod is featured on the tambu and what fun it is! The vocals begin again, singing “Del otro lado de la calle, Del otro lado de la calle…” The full band takes the song out. What an ending!
Back Home is an energetic, charming, sensory, and revealing album. It is all from the imagination and memory, the life and love, of Socrates Garcia as portrayed by the Latin Jazz Orchestra. From his childhood, from his doctoral studies, from his marriage, Garcia shows us what home is for him. And it is sweet.
Downbeat by Kirk Silsbee
Socrates Garcia’s musical memoir, Back Home (Mama 1050; 52:39 3 1/2 stars), recalls his youth in the Dominican Republic with fondness, gusto, and introspection. His horn sections punch, counterpunch, interlock and float to the merengue rhythms. Pianist Manuel Tejada leads the churning rhythm section, but also adds pastel to lyrical tunes like “Celebration of the Butterflies” and the title track. This is also concert fare that’s full of dance music sections and flourishes. Garcia’s three-part “Dominican Suite For Jazz Orchestra” has some filigreed reed section work that is at once orchestral jazz composition, yet with folkloric echoes. Like Martignon, he’s a writer with substantial potential.
O’s Place Jazz Newsletter by D. Oscar Groomes
“…vibrant Latin-infused jazz that is jovial, spirited and easy to enjoy.”
Socrates Garcia is from the Dominican Republic, a place that continues to inspire his music and spark wonderful memories. Back Home is an autobiographical sketch for Garcia, the arranger, composer and conductor for the work. He also plays guitar on the title track. The band is a large ensemble of talented musicians that produce vibrant Latin-infused jazz that is jovial, spirited and easy to enjoy. We enjoyed all seven selections especially the final three “Dominican Suite For Jazz Orchestra
Socrates Garcia’s Album, Back Home, is one of the best Big Band works I’ve heard in years. The combination of hip jazz arrangements with Afro Caribbean rhythms, like “Merengue” from his native Dominican Republic, makes this album a great one.
Felicitaciones hermano, your work is wonderful and inspiring. It is a masterpiece !!!!!!
Chuck Owen (Jazz pianist and composer, Director of jazz studies at the University of South Florida)
The best music allows us a glimpse through the artist’s eye. In this buoyant recording by talented young jazz composer/arranger, Socrates Garcia; he doesn’t just allow us a glimpse – he invites us right into his home where the merengues and bachatas are inseparable from the colorful memories of Dominican street life, political discord, and childhood musical heroes. . . . .all of which take flight through this first-class contemporary jazz big band. Captivating!
Alan Baylock (Jazz composer/arranger, educator, Chief arranger for the United States Air Force's band, Airmen of Note)
Socrates Garcia’s music is remarkably memorable and excitingly creative. His band is easily up to the task of interpreting his challenging works and is one of the tightest big bands I’ve heard!
Jazz Music Archives by JS
“It’s a stellar band that Garcia has assembled here”
“The icing on the cake is the sound and production, this album sparkles like a big shiny new automobile, everything is crystal clear and larger than life.”
Socrates Garcia is the Director of Music Technology at the University of Northern Colorado, and a long time participant in the music industry as a composer, arranger, keyboardist and guitarist. Despite a lengthy and successful career, Garcia has released only a couple of albums; a fusion album in 2005 called “Suenos”, and this year’s Latin big band extravaganza, “Back Home”. For someone who does not put out many records, Garcia certainly decided to aim high on “Back Home”. Ambitious to say the least, this CD seeks to incorporate rhythms from Garcia’s native Dominican Republic into massive big band charts that include a multi-movement three part suite. Big bands that utilize Afro-Cuban rhythms are somewhat common, but big bands working with Dominican forms are far less common. The Cuban influence can be felt here, especially in the montuno style figures in the piano and horn charts, but the base rhythms are mostly based on Dominican styles, such as the steady thump of the merengue, and the more syncopated bachata.
It’s a stellar band that Garcia has assembled here, with many of the musicians, particularly the percussionists, hailing from the Dominican Republic. Garcia’s complex arrangements tend to dominate the proceedings, but there is still room for some hot solos. One of the best solos appears on the opening track on which pianist Manuel Tejada unleashes a jaggedy Eddie Palmieri influenced assault on the ivories. Unfortunately this is Tejada’s only lengthy solo, it would have been nice to hear more from him. Other hot spots include Brad Goode’s screaming trumpet on “Bachata for Two”, Goode is definitely comfortable in the upper registers, and Wil Swindler’s high speed turn on the soprano sax on the album closer. Another album highlight happens on “Homage to Tavito”, on which classic bebop horn arrangements dance on top of a driving merengue beat, a fusion that really clicks.
Much of this album represents Garcia’s attempts to recollect musical fragments based on childhood memories of Dominican culture. “Back Home” presents a long journey and a lifetime labor of love for Garcia, and the amount of work he put into the arrangements reflects that respect and devotion. The icing on the cake is the sound and production, this album sparkles like a big shiny new automobile, everything is crystal clear and larger than life.
Back Home: Composer Socrates Garcia Fuses Jazz and Dominican Music by Michael Schrier
Fusion has been an integral component of jazz music from its conception. After all, jazz itself is a fusion of African and European musical traditions. The European musical tradition gave jazz many now-standard jazz instruments (trumpet, trombone, saxophone, clarinet, tuba, drums) and their conception of harmony. The percussive approach in which jazz artists may use these instruments borrows from the African musical tradition. The African musical tradition also contributed syncopation, “blue” notes, and “call-and-response” figures to jazz music. This is, of course, a simplification of a very complex socio-historical process in which jazz became a recognizable genre of music, but the idea remains. In the 1940s, Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo introduced Cuban elements into the music of Dizzy Gillespie. The 1970s saw groups like Weather Report fusing elements of jazz with funk and rock. The advent of the digital synthesizer around the turn of the 1980s took this to another level when jazz artists like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock began utilizing these instruments in their music. In more recent years, bassist Avishai Cohen has introduced musical elements from his homeland of Israel to jazz. Fusion thrives at the very core of what we identify as “jazz.”
“What new things are you bringing to the table compositionally?” composer Socrates Garcia recalls teacher Jamey Simmons always asking him. Garcia was very heavily influenced by the compositions of Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely, and Fred Sturm, who later was to become his mentor. But to write music in the style of those composers would not bring anything “new” to the table. After a few years of pondering the question, it finally dawned on him. Garcia decided to combine elements of his Dominican heritage with elements of the contemporary big band jazz idiom. The compositions that followed grew into his debut album Back Home. The album features a jazz big band, accentuated by artists from the Dominican Republic, playing authentic Dominican styles, including the bachata and merengue.
Garcia knew that he needed certain artists with certain musical backgrounds for the recording to be a success, as there was a certain complexity to the compositions. While some of Colorado’s finest jazz artists make up the horn sections, the rhythm section and percussion section included many artists from the Dominican Republic. For one, he knew he needed Manuel Tejada on piano. Garcia worked in Tejada’s studio in the Dominican Republic, and Garcia knew that Tejada had an ear for both jazz and Dominican music. A trusted colleague had suggested Helen de la Rosa to be his drummer. Garcia remembers her attending various clinics he had given in the Dominican Republic. Now she’s a 24-year-old Berklee graduate whose profile is growing rather quickly. Given the logistical complexity and expense, Garcia initially recorded just the big band here in Colorado, and later overdubbed the four-person percussion section in the Dominican Republic, where all four percussionists reside. Garcia had complete trust in these percussionists, noting that after hearing the big band, they would intuitively know how their instruments were to fit into the texture.
So what does it sound like? In an All About Jazz review, Jack Bowers says that “[n]ot only is Back Home a near-perfect blend of Dominican and American music, it stands tall on its own as a superlative example of big-band jazz at its best” (full review at https://www.allaboutjazz.com/back-home-socrates-garcia-mama-records-review-by-jack-bowers.php). The pinnacle of the album is Garcia’s three-movement Dominican Suite. The first movement pays tribute to saxophonist Tavito Vasquez, also known as “the Charlie Parker of the Caribbean,” who fused elements of the bebop tradition with the Dominican merengue. Garcia had the privilege of meeting him in the 1990s while he was still alive and Garcia harmonized one of Tavito’s solos for the entire sax section, in a manner reminiscent of a sax soli. The second movement is slower and more introspective, a Dominican bachata with lush harmonies, dedicated to Garcia’s wife Wanda. The final movement is inspired by a genre of Dominican folk music called palos or atabales, which Garcia describes as including “heavy drumming, singing, and usually large amounts of alcohol.” From his childhood in the Dominican Republic, he recalls a big woman playing gigantic drums in this folk genre. This final movement has a prevalent rhythmic drive to the album’s conclusion.
Socrates Garcia celebrates the release of Back Home on Tuesday, February 7 at Dazzle Jazz. In addition to Helen de la Rosa on drums, the performance will feature some of Colorado’s first-call jazz artists, including trumpeters Greg Gisbert and Brad Goode. This is a one of a kind musical presentation not to be missed!
Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz
Exploring Dominican Music & Jazz: Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra
If there’s one thing that could be classified as a missed opportunity in Latin jazz, it would certainly have to be the inclusion of Dominican music. Dance traditions from the Dominican Republic are extremely popular, so it makes sense that jazz musicians would explore the rhythmic possibilities. Afro Cuban music has certainly dominated Latin jazz, but traditions from other parts of the Caribbean and South America have found their way into a jazz context. We’ve got plenty of Latin jazz rooted in Brazilian music, Puerto Rican music, Peruvian music, and more; yet music from the Dominican Republic has been severely underrepresented. There are exceptions – most notably El Comandante by Mario Rivera – but these shining lights of Dominican influence in jazz are greatly outnumbered. This seems to be a field that needs to be explored, in greater depth – the potential Latin Jazz based upon Dominican music could be very exciting.
Fortunately there’s one artist that realizes the golden opportunity sitting at the crossroads of Dominican music and jazz, Socrates Garcia. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Socrates Garcia performed extensively throughout the Caribbean and South America as both a keyboardist and guitarist. He concurrently worked as a recording engineer, earning credits behind the board on a long list of albums. His 2016 release Back Home is an exciting blend of jazz harmony and improvisation sitting alongside merengue, bachata, and more. The big band context serves this music well, with thick orchestration emphasizing the harmony while reinforcing the rhythmic momentum of the music. This is smart and exciting music that shows us the power of Dominican music combined with jazz. Enjoy today’s video of the Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Ensemble performing live, demonstrating the potential in this combination.