Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band re-imagines “West Side Story”

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Bobby Sanabria and Multiverse Band’s “West Side Story Reimagined” is forthcoming July 20, 2018. This two-CD project is one part art with a purpose, another part somewhat commemorative. A portion of the proceeds of the album will support hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. The release’s timing coincides with what would have been Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. The live performance heard on the discs was recorded at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York City. The live recording date marks the 60th anniversary of “West Side Story.”

About “West Side Story”

“West Side Story” is the story of rival gangs in New York City. The two gangs the story focuses on are the Jets and the Sharks. The Jets are comprised of white males, and one female hanger-on who does not wish to be a girlfriend, but an actual gang member. Her androgynous looks make her the butt of jokes among the Jets.

The Sharks are Puerto Ricans. Their leader, Bernardo, has a younger sister, Maria. Maria meets former Jet, Tony, and they fall in love. Much to the disgust and disgrace of their friends and loved ones. The musical reminds some fans and scholars of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Themes of racism, juvenile delinquency and immigration impact the plot, characters and the songs. “West Side Story” is a modern American story.

Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band

The ensemble’s big band sound is given a Latin flair when it takes on the soundscape of “West Side Story.” The band includes 21 members and has been nominated for a Grammy Award.

The band’s donation of proceeds is not the result of being on-trend. “Partial proceeds from this special commemorative set will be donated to the Jazz Foundation America’s Puerto Rico Relief Fund. The island has been completely devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria and the government’s response has been less than adequate. What better way to help my ancestral homeland Puerto Rico and its people, than through the music of “West Side Story Reimagined,” Sanabria declared in a statement.

The swing elements and the Latin elements as played by Sanabria’s Multiverse Big Band work together beautifully. There is swagger, and rich rhythms throughout. Fans of the musical will be familiar with the scenes and songs from the musical. The words of the musical are replicated here as well, sometimes with a twist that updates the work. For example, “Gee, Officer Krupke.” The song’s final lines might induce laughter from some audience members.

“The Jet Song” is another favorite that gets a full and energetic treatment. Sanabria is a drummer, bandleader and arranger. He brings a fervor to the re-imagining of the musical that might be most obvious in the infectious rhythm. One song that stands out as overwhelmingly danceable, is “Gym Scene- -Blues/Mambo.” The track is likely to make people feel an impulse to dance. It is proof that Sanabria Multiverse is well-versed in the music of “West Side Story.” The music on the recording reflects a knowledge of the cool that undergirds the behavior of both male and female characters.

The running time for both discs is one hour and 19 minutes. It is worth the time it takes to listen, and the actual time will seem like only a few minutes. This ambitious undertaking by Bobby Sanabria Big Band deserves to be considered an instant classic.

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