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Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Cuba – The Conversation Continues

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Arturo O'Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra - Cuba The Conversation Continues

The year 2015 has seen two monumental musical works where Afro-Caribbean music collides with Jazz: The first is Elio Villafranca’s suite, Cinque which was premiered at Jazz at Lincoln Centre and has since been performed in Bolivia with the Symphony Orchestra there. The second is Cuba – The Conversation Continues by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. This large ensemble led by Mr. O’Farrill, son of the legendary Chico O’Farrill is augmented by celebrated musicians from both Cuba – including the incomparable Bobby Carcassés – and the US – starring Rudresh Mahanthappa and Michele Rosewoman. However it is not so much who performs on this recording as much as the compositions that make up this extended work: five American composers and four Cuban ones. The size of the performing cast and the production staff that worked on this project was also phenomenal – over a hundred – making it akin to a big budget film. In fact it is hoped that there is, in fact, a film that has documented this mighty project.

Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Cuba – The Conversation Continues

But to begin at the beginning, I am not sure why Arturo O’Farrill is not considered in the same breath as his father, Chico. Just like the latter, the son also rises. In his “Afro Latin Jazz Suite” the centrepiece of this 2-CD set we’ve finally scotched once and for all the notion that he could not orchestrate as effectively as his father. Yet this opus is one of the most remarkable pieces you’ll ever hear in all chamber music. It fuses the idioms of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American in the grand manner. The thesis here – spelled out by the sub-text of this recording namely “The Conversation Continues” – is meant to suggest that this magnum opus continues the music dialogue between Latin American music and Jazz – from where Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo left off, i.e. from “Manteca” that great composition which has been forever etched in the memory of anyone who is besotted by Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American music. The cumulative impact of this music is so great that it pounds the interior landscape of the mind to such an extent that it strikes one as the unique combination of energy and fervour as the performances make you fall in love with Music all over again.

Let’s not, however, suggest that Arturo O’Farrill’s composition is all there is to this record. There is more, a lot more, from composers such as Michele Rosewoman (“Alabanza”), whose New Yor-Uba has already established itself as one of the finest ensembles of its kind with her last record that celebrates 25 years of that stellar group. Then there is one (“The Triumphant Journey”) by Dafnis Prieto, a young drummer who emigrated from Cuba to the United States and who has since cemented his reputation as one of the more serious composers in the US. There is a beautiful work, “Second Line Soca (Brudda Singh)”, from the great Earl McIntyre, who has graced many an important ensembles including ones by Charlie Haden and Carla Bley. Add to that superb music by Bobby Carcassés “Blues Guaguancó”, by the Cuban Michel Herrera – “Just One Moment” – and “Guajira Simple” by Alexis Bosch. There are a total of five contributions from American and four contributions from Cuban composers each sketched at white-hot pace and performed as if dwelling in the arc of that flame.

I can find few words to describe their greatness. They seem to mark the furthest limits that can be attained by human art and imagination. Moreover this ensemble has set the bar very high with their astounding fresh, supple readings of the material and when the time comes it will be no surprise that this recording will garner a clutch of awards (to be shared by Elio Villafranca’s work if it is put down on record. The music is not only of great significance. It is played with such energy that it literally blows the lid off “The Big Top”. It is colourful, beautifully managed – sustained, with a clarity of counterpoint pointing up to the individuality of the musicians as well as their collective finesse that is very much in keeping with the vision of its leader, Arturo O’Farrill, and packs a punch so great that it literally hits it out of the proverbial park. Soloists are magnificent: from alto saxophonist who opens Mr. O’Farrill’s Suite; pianist Michele Rosewoman, the great Bobby Carcassés who makes his “Blues Guaguancó” truly unforgettable, as memorable in fact as the music of Mr. O’Farrill’s sons – Adam and Zack – featured with the ever wonderful DJ Logic – in an extraordinary Arturo O’Farrill composition “Vita Frita”. And then, of course, there is the beautiful work of Earl McIntyre and Renée Manning on Mr. McIntyre’s superb composition.

Most of all there is the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra who is unafraid to use portamentos which is applied with particular elegance to melodies throughout, which is here encased in warmly voluptuous sound. The ensemble is most impressive and particularly compelling as they tackle the rhythmic vagaries of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American metaphors in superbly adrenalin-pumped affairs. Shifts in mood – no matter how subtle and real a challenge – are superbly caught. The recording is immediate and present. The notes combine scholarship with readability and are particularly enlightening when it comes to performance details – too vast to be detailed in this review. This is an altogether flawless recording that is a must for any collection.

Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Cuba – The Conversation Continues is a 2016 Latin Grammy Awards Winner in the Best Latin Jazz Album Category

Track List: CD1: The Triumphant Journey; The Afro Latin Jazz Suite – Movement I: Mother Africa; Movement II: All of the Americas; Movement III: Adagio; Movement IV: What Now? Guajira Simple; Alabanza; Blues Guaguancó; CD2: Vaca Frita; Just One Moment; El Bombón; Second Line Soca (Brudda Singh); There’s a Statue of Jose Martí in Central Park.

With Special Guest Cuban Composers & Performers: With Special Guest Cuban Composers & Performers: Bobby Carcassés, Alexis Bosch, Cotó, Yasek Manzano, Michel Herrera, Jesus Ricardo Anduz, Antonio Martinez Campos and…

Additional American Composers & Performers: Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dafnis Prieto, DJ Logic, Michele Rosewoman, Renée Manning, Zack O’Farrill, Adam O’Farrill, Gregg August, Earl McIntyre and Arturo O’Farrill.

Released – 2015
Label – Motéma Music
Running time: CD1 – 53:05; CD2 – 38:18

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Deo gratis…

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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