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Arturo O’Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Virtual Birdland



Arturo O’Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra - Virtual Birdland

Arturo O’Farrill has – for a very long time – been exploring long-form composition and using it to express [by American standards, at least] his rather radical social-consciousness. While what he writes may not strictly-speaking be the “symphonic” form or tone-poems, the subject matter of his work suggests that he certainly conceives of his music on the epic and very cannily uses orchestral writing to express his world view on a grand – even epic – scale. But of all his recent works – the brilliantly-conceived and executed Four Questions – none stands out quite like the Virtual Birdland album.

The title suggests part of the reason why: the “Virtual” in it tells you that this monumental [by virtue of the number of musicians and the scope of the music] nature of the production and the fact that much – if not all of it was individually [or remotely] recorded is staggering to contemplate, let alone execute. Zoom and other media devices were never designed for a recording on this scale. To pull it off, certainly albeit with considerable hours of post-production, is quite a feat in itself. It is not a matter of simply getting every musician “on the same page” To dig into the emotion of the music – especially instrumental music – notes and diacritical markings may be a composer’s guide.

Yet even the most autocratic composer leaves room for expressive interpretation. Knowing the arduous process of putting Virtual Birdland together and now listening to this music you will be amazed at how musicians so far apart could be “on the same page” musically, and expressively while maintaining requisite tension and release as if they were in a single space. This is no gimmick. The musicians have, indeed deeply interiorized Mr O’Farrill’s vision and artistry and interpreted his music with eloquent idiomatic grace.

And now, the “epic” part: Mr O’Farrill has been deeply committed to the Black Lives Matter and he collaborated with Professor Cornel West masterfully and memorably on Four Questions. On Virtual Birdland the composer extends the scope of his social-consciousness – and his world view – to bring perspectives from the Africa and the Arab World. But “Pouvoir” and “Ana Mashoof” are not simply artistic stances. By using powerful voices [Malika Zarra] and the Arab percussionist colourists the Boom Diwan – especially on the latter song, he is more than simply aligning himself with the concept of “universal brotherhood”.

But using his art to more than extend an [artistic] hand to Islamic brethren; rather, in the vaunted of “Nightfall” and the dark elegance of “Ana Mashoof” he is creating a musical space for that all-encompassing idea of brotherhood. All this repertoire sounds refreshing and new – like Paquito D’Rivera‘s “Samba for Carmen, for instance. Soli are judiciously distributed and soloists respond with noble performance, all of which are seamlessly and exquisitely subsumed into the ensemble performance of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.

But most importantly, this recording also melds the “heart-world” of Mr O’Farrill with his “cultural-topography world” – which is the Afro-Caribbean one – expressed in a myriad of wonderful ways, on such works as “Gulab Jamón”, the lyrical “Cimarrón” and the thunder and lightning of “Para los Rumberos”. And it is this collision that brings about a proverbial volcanic mix of wondrous music that while inflected by a multiplicity of rhythms and harmonic idioms, it offers the best and clearest example of Mr O’Farrill’s powerful artistic world-vision.

Track list – 1: Gulab Jamón; 2: Pouvoir; 3: Desert; 4: Nightfall; 5: Ana Mashoof; 6: Samba for Carmen; 7: Alafia; 8: En el Oscuridad; 9: Cimarrón; 10: Para los Rumberos

Personnel – Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra – Woodwinds – Alejandro Avilés: alto saxophone [solo on 9], soprano saxophone [4, solo on 5], and flute [1, 5]; Adison Evans: alto saxophone [1, 2, 4 – 6, 8 – 10], and flute [5, 6]; Roman Filiú: alto saxophone [3, 7]; Iván Renta: tenor saxophone [soli on 4, 8, 10], and soprano saxophone [9]; Jasper Dutz: tenor saxophone [1 – 5, 8, 9 – solo on 1], and clarinet [2, 3, 5]; Jeremy Powell: tenor saxophone [6, 7]; Livio Almeida: tenor saxophone [10]; Larry Bustamante: baritone saxophone [solo on 7], and bass clarinet [3, 5]. Brass – Seneca Black: trumpet [1, 3, 5, 9 solo on 3]; Bryan Davis: trumpet [solo on 10]; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet [solo on 6]; Walter Cano: trumpet [2, 9, 10], and flügelhorn [4]; Rachel Therrien: trumpet [1 – 8, 10 solo on 4], and flugelhorn [5]; Kai Sandoval: trumpet [6, 8]; Rafi Malkiel: euphonium [soli on 3, 10]; Mariel Bildsten: trombone [1 – 5, 7 – 10 solo on 2]; Abdulrahman Amer: trombone [1 – 7, 8 – 10 solo on 9]; Xito Lovell: trombone [6]; Ben Barnett: trombone [8]; Earl Mcintyre: trombone [1 – 5, 7, 9, 10], bass trombone, and tuba 3, 7]; James Rogers: bass trombone [6, 8, 9]. Rhythm Section – Arturo O’Farrill: piano [soli on 1, 4]; BamBam Rodríguez: contrabass, electric bass [1, 2, 5, 6], and karkabas [3]; Vince Cherico: drums [solo on 10]; Keisel Jiménez: conga drums [soli on 2, 4]; Carly Maldonado: bongo drums, bell guiro, cajón [2], dumbek [3, 4], and timbales [solo on 9, 10]. Special Guests – Malika Zarra: voice [2]; Gili Sharett: bassoon [3]; Gazal Faisal Al-Mulaifi: guitar and voice [solo on5]. Boom Diwan – Sulaiman Mayoof Mejally, Abdulaziz Al-Hamli, Abdulwahab Al-Hamli, Khaled Bunashi, Ghanem Salem: percussion. Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone [solo 6]; Richard Miller: guitar [6]; Everton Isidoro: cuica, pandeiro and caxixi [6, 7]; Gustavo Di Dalva: atabaque [7]

Released – 2021
Label – ZOHO Music [ZM 202105]
Runtime – 1:08:16

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



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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