Paquito D'Rivera is certainly well loved by critics and music-lovers alike, and deservedly so. For 45 years, this Grammy Award-winner has been performing and recording some of the most innovative and incendiary Latin jazz in the world.
D'Rivera was born in Cuba on June 4, 1948. A child prodigy, he began his musical studies at the age of five under the tutelage of his father Tito, himself a well-known classical saxophonist and conductor in Cuba. At age six, the wunderkind was already performing with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra, and when he was seven, became the youngest artist ever to endorse a musical instrument when he signed on with the legendary Selmer company. In 1967, D'Rivera and pianist Chucho Valdes founded the renowned Orquestra Cubana de Musica Moderna, which he subsequently conducted for two years. Eight of the younger, more adventurous members of the Orchestra eventually formed Irakere, whose explosive mixture of jazz, rock, classical, and traditional Cuban music had certainly never before been heard.
Irakere's 1978 performances at the Newport/New York and Montreaux Jazz festivals caused a sensation, and they made history as the first Cuban musicians to record for an American label after Fidel Castro took power. By 1980, though, D'Rivera was dissatisfied with the constraints placed on his music in Cuba and, in early 1981, while on tour in Spain, he sought asylum at the American Embassy and left his homeland forever.
Upon his arrival in the United States, D'Rivera was helped by many people; in particular, Dizzy Gillespie, David Amram, Mario Bauza and Bruce Lundvall, who gave him his first solo recording date. Since leaving Cuba, Paquito D'Rivera has taken command of his role as a cross-national ambassador, creating and promoting a multinational style that moves from bebop to Latin to classical.
Throughout D'Rivera's career in the United States, his 20+ albums have received rave reviews from critics and have hit the top of the jazz charts. He has received numerous distinctions, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (along with Dizzy Gillespie and Gato Barbieri) in 1991 for his contribution to Latin music. D'Rivera also won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Performance for his Chesky release, Portraits of Cuba. Since then, Portraits of Cuba has become one of the most celebrated jazz recordings of the decade.
In addition to winning numerous awards, D'Rivera is the co-founder of the United Nation Orchestra, where he has served as both conductor and featured soloist. He has also worked as a producer on other musicians' albums and performed with numerous orchestras. D'Rivera was named artistic director for jazz programming for the New Jersey Chamber Music Society's 1997-1998 season, and he tours regularly all over the world, both solo and with ensembles such as Triangulo, the Paquito D'Rivera Big Band, and the Paquito D'Rivera Quintet.
"Recording of the Month...a seemingly ideal balance of written segments and solo spots...Franzetti's arrangements are powerful as well as colorful, and he keeps the band swinging through a grand variety of music..." Michael Ullman, Stereophile
"...pianist/arranger Carlos Franzetti shares the billing with D'Rivera, crafting impressionistic, richly voiced orchestrations that occasionally take on a classical flair, with muted trumpets, French horns, flutes and the leader's courtly clarinet evoking the tropical elegance of a bygone era." Mark Holston, Jazziz
"One of the three best records of the year." Louis Victor-Milay, Jazz Hot
"Sound: A, Performance: A...As each arrangement unfolds, D'Rivera's eloquently spinning lines heat up, becoming more and more aggressive without forsaking the highest degree of musicianship...this joint venture between soloist and arranger invites comparison to a similar Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration, Sketches of Spain. Perhaps Portraits of Cuba will also come to be known as a classic." James Rozzi, Audio
"I'm impressed anew ... by the technical and emotional equipoise of Paquito's alto, soprano, and clarinet improvisations: his lyric focus and fierce rhythmic drive, the ease of execution in navigating complex harmonic changes, the dancing undercurrent of South America and the Caribbean, the complex chromatic elisions and bluesy grooves of swing and bop, the steely articulation and dynamic control of a classically-trained saxophonist. I'm actually kind of stunned." - Chip Stein, JazzTimes, June 1999
"1996 Critic's Pick" - Bob Blumenthal, Jazziz, March 1997
"Recording of the Month" - Stereophile, October 1996
"The orchestra is first rate. So is the recording. Altoist D'Rivera plays with his usual panache. This homage to the Cuban jazz tradition calls to mind Gil Evans' 'Sketches of Spain,' though 'Portraits' is spicier - with Cuban rhythms undulating through every tune." - Stephen Phillips The Plain Dealer, February 14, 1997
"Paquito D'Rivera is a true jazzman renowned for his pyrotechnical, Latin-accented saxophone and clarinet improvisations. Carlos Franzetti is a master arranger who knows the robust tendencies of Cuban music, but chooses also to explore softer hues. Put the pair together with 18 of New York's finest session players, and an historic Cuban repertoire comes alive with the sounds of D'Rivera soaring over dramatic orchestrations of soft, elegant woodwinds and bold, machismo brass." - James Rozzi, Jazz News, Jan-Feb 1997
"Portraits of Cuba (Chesky) is Paquito D'Rivera's tribute to his homeland. While the sixteen-piece orchestra that supports D'Rivera's clarinet, soprano sax and alto sax is close to a standard big band, the broad sweep of the material (including themes reaching back to the 19th-century concert hall) and the daring tangents of Carlos Franzetti's arrangements create something on the more exceptional order of 'Sketches of Spain'...give the reedman credit for brilliant programming and his most no-nonsense recorded work. Franzetti also merits kudos for a project that inspired all of its participants." - Bob Blumenthal, Boston Globe, June 6, 1996
"Marvelous jazz celebration of Cuban music...Beautifully performed and recorded..." - Hi-Fi News & Record Review, November 1996
"...sophisticated arrangements...elaborate, thickly textured charts, full of the dreamy colors, the beauty, and the passion of Cuba...A resplendent album that impels repeated listening, not only for D'Rivera's masterful solos, but for Franzetti's extraordinarily beautiful arrangements." - Nancy Ann Lee, Jazz & Blues, September 1996
"...woodwind wizard Paquito D'Rivera is back on the jazz map's terra firma with this high-power exploration of traditional big band-rooted Cuban styles. Carlos Franzetti shares the billing with D'Rivera, crafting impressionistic, richly voiced orchestrations that occasionally take on a classical flair, with muted trumpets, French horns, flutes and the leader's courtly clarinet evoking the tropical elegance of a bygone era. Elsewhere, surging rhythms fuel passionate big band ensembles attacks, and capture the rambunctious gaiety of a modern, jazz-grounded Latin big band." - Mark Holston, Jazziz, December 1996
"...this album is his set of the very sweetest and magnanimous of remembrances. D'Rivera calls this Franzetti's (and his) 'jazz tribute to the Cuban tradition,' much as Sketches of Spain was Gil Evans' (and Miles Davis') jazz tribute to Spain's spirit...Franzetti's charts are unusually rich and demanding, yet his settings of classic Cuban songs of the last century are highly respectful of the originals...we hear [Paquito] playing with passion yet reserve, a certain mature wistfulness - very strong indeed. I further predict that this highly satisfying album will become, over the years perhaps, like its predecessor and model, a jazz classic and commercial success." - Fred Bouchard, JazzTimes, September 1996