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.