There may be a tongue-in-cheek aspect to Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s album, 40 Acres and a Burro (Zoho Music – 2011). The title suggests, as O’Farrill explains, the so-called “settlement” which newly-emancipated African Americans received at the end of the Civil War as well as the stereotypical manner in which the Latino population is viewed by the rest of the American population. But perhaps the State of the Union may not actually be quite what it appears to be. In fact, some may say that there is almost an insidious disregard for the “freedom” given the African American Diaspora in the 19th Century. Moreover there appears also to be an uncanny parallel in the same unspoken disregard for the humanity of Latinos today. So, make no mistake: while it may be la injusticia se acabó, things are not what they seem.
Suddenly the commitment of artists—poets, painters and musicians—is being tested all the more. More than in any artistic endeavour it appears to be easier to “escape” from this reality into a fantasy world; even pretend social injustice does not exist. But then there are those who choose not to ignore what lies beneath the fabric of society. And this is the significance of the best African American and Latin American music holds fast to this belief as it appears to celebrate the ability of the underdog to triumph over great adversity; the blues, jazz, rap and hip-hop as well as Latin forms especially folk forms celebrates humanity in the grand manner. This is exactly what is outstanding not just about the music of The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s 40 Acres and a Burro, but of its director and pianist, Arturo O’Farrill.
O’Farrill’s music is a mixtura fina, rooted in the historicity of Latin America—its social and artistic fabric—which is one really, as there is no true art that does not emerge from the society that so deserves and influences it. But the words, “Afro Latin Jazz” also suggest a melting away the boundaries of three vibrant cultures. And even though this music may opt to find expression in a principal idiom the others are never far behind or completely hidden. Pixinguinha’s witty, iconic choro, “Um a Zero” recalls the best of the blues and ritual beating of the drum and at the hands of featured soloist, the incomparable clarinettist, Paquito D’Rivera, it soars wonderfully. The seemingly opposed swagger and lilting tenderness of Hermeto Pascoal’s “Bebe” is another example of an orchestra in fine form as it interprets the work of another itinerant Brasilian composer. Afro-Peruvian trumpeter, Gabriel Alegria contributes a spectacular festejo, “El Sur,” one which he conducts and also features his celebrated percussionist, Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón playing three traditional Peruvian percussion instruments, as well as his guitarist, the wildly-talented Yuri Juarez.
Tracks like the ones just mentioned highlight how the unique folk forms of Latin American music can be seamlessly integrated into contemporary Latin Jazz. The term appears to be a complete misnomer as the aching narrative, “She Moves Through the Fair,” which features a traditional Irish song, performed by the spectacular Irish American violinist, Heather Martin Bixler. “A Wise Latina” is wisely described as “a celebration” of the nomination and confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of America. The rousing bomba section at the beginning of the piece seems like an inspired choice with which to open the piece. But this composition is much more than that: It offers a magnificently toned aural perspective on the Latina. With a multitude of shades running through melody and harmony, the music also makes poignant use of atonalism to describe the conflict that described this particular nomination. Once again, O’Farrill displays how social awareness and commitment can be gracefully accommodated in the musical arts, just as he does on the title track, where the commitment is couched in wry humour.
By now no one would dare question just how deeply committed O’Farrill is. Surely that becomes obvious also by his deep sense of history. How else could he make such timely and majestic use of folk forms, as in “Rumba Urbana” a gem from Oscar Hernandez and the witty “Tanguango” from maestro Astor Piazzolla? Arturo O’Farrill has a wonderful sense of history and his place in it. Moreover, his consciousness is a humble one for he sees himself as an artist who serves his music. In this regard he is a son of his father, the great Chico O’Farrill in more ways than one. 40 Acres and a Burro is just another memorable album in support of this journey he is making to serve what is a majestic sense of the ancient future of a glorious art.
Track Listing: Rumba Urbana; A Wise Latina; Almendra; Um a Zero; El Sur; She Moves Through the Fair; Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba; Tanguango; Bebê A Night in Tunisia; 40 Acres and a Burro.
Personnel: Arturo O’Farrill: piano; Ricardo Rodriguez: bass; Vince Cherico: drums; Roland Guerrero: congas; Joe Gonzalez: percussion; David DeJesus: alto saxophone; Bobby Porcelli: alto saxophone; Peter Brainin: tenor saxophone; Ivan Renta: tenor saxophone; Jason Marshall: baritone saxophone; Seneca Black: trumpet; Michael Philip Mossman: trumpet; Jim Seeley: trumpet; John Walsh: trumpet; Reynaldo Jorge: trombone; Tokunori Kajiwara: trombone; Earl McIntyre: trombone; Gary Valente: trombone; Paquito D’Rivera: clarinet (4, 9); Pablo O. Bilbraut: güiro (3, 7); Heather Martin Bixler: violin (6); Hector Del Curto: bandoneon (8); Yuri Juarez: guitar (5); Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón: cajón, cajita, quijada (5); Sharon Moe: French horn (2); Jeff Scott: French horn (2); Guilherme Monteiro: guitar (4); Adam O’Farrill: trumpet (7); Gabriel Alegria: guest conductor.
Released – 2011
Label – Zoho Music