As Socrates Garcia, the Dominican born creative force behind his big band, the Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra, explains in the liner notes to its February release, Back Home, 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, Garcia and his 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 Miiddagh 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 Mirabel 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 palos or atabales.
The suite provides a fine conclusion to Socrates Garcia’s jazz soaked tribute to his homeland.