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Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Four Questions

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To say that the art of Arturo O’Farrill is “fascinating” would be telling only part of his story, for Mr O’Farrill’s music is quite profound. It is always written in a manner that embraces the entire topography of the piano and the numerous instruments of which he appears to have considerable knowledge. Moreover his thinking – no doubt shaped by his legendary father’s artistry – is rooted in a radical approach to the poetry of melodicism, harmonics and Afro-Latin rhythms. Over time, his [Arturo O’Farrill’s] musical canvases have acquired his singular brush-stroke – a sweeping, urgent curve that seems to leap with a revolutionary shout onto his musical soundscape. His album Four Questions is born of just this. On the recording Mr O’Farrill powers up his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra to align itself with activist sociology. With W.E.B. DuBois as his guiding light Mr O’Farrill joins forces with the incomparable Dr Cornel West who infuses this spectacular music with the eloquence of his [Dr West’s] own prose-poetry and oratory, itself an amalgam of Marxist activism, Christianity and soulful humanism; a mix of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Toni Morrison and Søren Kiekegaard, John Coltrane and W.E.B. DuBois.

Naturally, the track “Four Questions” is itself the crowning glory of this repertoire. However, the other music is quite spectacular too. Much of it is rich in allusion [especially Mosaic and other Old Testament allusion]. All of the themes and songs themselves are shaped by contemporary events in the USA. Each piece of music is played with a sense of great urgency. But while Mr O’Farrill’s stance is radical and his “voice” – at times loud and angry – it is, unlike the voices of so many in Trump’s USA, laden with hope and tempered by love. Dr West’s referencing of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is poignant and refers to “love” in the Greco-Christian tradition where it is called agape [a word that comes from ancient Greek] interpreted as unconditional love. Mr O’Farrill’s use of this agape, is like Dr West’s founding theme for his oration on the song, “Four Questions”.

While “Four Questions” is the pivotal track of the recording, Mr O’Farrill also pours his all into other music on the album. All of this is exquisitely arranged and music such as “Baby Jack” and “Clump, Unclump” for instance, has the same epic narrative effect as the longer works of music on the album. Mr O’Farrill makes his mark as a composer of epic proportions and “A Still, Small Voice” is a wonderful example of this work. The suite is beautifully developed from a visionary revelation to the Prophet Elijah. Again, using powerful Biblical imagery, Mr O’Farrill seems to give account of himself as an artist deeply engaged in his role of musician to affect a change of heart in himself [“Amidst the Fire and the Whirlwind”] by distilling the music of “Cacophonus” into “A Still, Small Voice” [of the people; his people] raised up and railing against the injustices of this time [racism, discrimination, injustices against immigrants, etc.].

Despite the density of the themes on this album, it is immensely enjoyable to listen to. The profundity of each theme is exquisitely transposed into music that is hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity. Yet it breathes into its many social themes and brings them to life vividly and with a sense of graphic reality. And it is this that will give the music lasting value. Certainly it is an album to die for.

63rd Annual Grammy Awards Winner · Best Latin Jazz Album

Track list – 1: Baby Jack; 2: Jazz Twins; 3: Four Questions; 4: Clump, Unclump; 5: A Still, Small Voice – I: Elijah – 1 Kings 19:13; II: Amidst the Fire and the Whirlwind; III: Cacophonus; IV: A Still, Small Voice

Personnel – Arturo O’Farrill: piano [ soli 3] and conductor [5]; Bryan Davis: trumpet; Seneca Black: trumpet [soli – 3, 4] and voice [4]; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet; John Bailey: trumpet [solo 5 IV]; Jonathan Powell: trumpet [5] David Smith: trumpet [solo – 2]; Dr Cornel West [prose-poetry and oratory – 3]; Sharon Moe: French horn [solo – 5]; Bobby Porcelli: saxophone; Iván Renta: tenor saxophone [soli – 2, 3, 4] and soprano saxophone [solo 5 III]; Jeremy Powell: saxophone; Larry Bustamante: saxophone; David DeJesús: alto saxophone; Peter Brainin: tenor saxophone [5 IV] Jason Marshall: baritone saxophone [solo – 5 I]; Rafi Malkiel: trombone; Frank Cohen: trombone; Tokunori Kajiwara: trombone [5]; Earl McIntyre: trombone and tuba; Alison Deane: piano [5]; Ricardo Rodriguez: bass [1 – 4]; Gregg August: bass [5]; Vince Cherico: drums; Tony Rosa: congas [1 – 4]; Roland Guerrero: congas; Carly Maldonado: bongos and percussion; Joe Gonzalez: bongos; Guests – Dr. Cornel West: narrator [3]; Aubrey Johnson: soprano [soli – 5]; Edda Fransdottir: soprano [soli 5]; DJ Logic: turntables [5]

Released – 2020
Label – Zoho Music [202002]
Runtime – 72:11

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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