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



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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