It has been authoritatively stated that Chico O’Farrill was one of the most important composers and big band arrangers and conductors in the idioms of jazz or Latin Jazz. His son, the inimitable Arturo O’Farrill is not very far behind. In fact he may be closer to his father (although he might deny this) than he or anyone would care to imagine. With a number of recordings, including solo piano ones, to his credit in recent years—recordings such as Song for Chico, Risa Negra, and Live in Brooklyn and perhaps, most memorable of all The Noguchi Sessions— Mr. O’Farrill is actually every bit the equal of his father, Chico. And now, with his Motema debut, The Offense of the Drum the young Mr. O’Farrill has reinforced his position in the world of music as a composer, pianist and all-round musical director. His ensemble, The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra is a powerful vehicle for his voice, an authoritative one indeed.
Arturo O’Farrill’s music is informed by a studied sense of history, which is eminently displayed on this album. He is part of a tradition that includes his father and a host of other luminaries who established the tradition and includes, as big band directors go, also Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Frank Foster and Thad Jones. Mr. O’Farrill’s writing is as stylish and sophisticated as his eminent predecessors in his ability to use and fuse the myriad tones of brass, woodwinds and percussion in a marvellously orchestrated manner. His use of rich colours as well as subtle shadings is obvious from this recording as well as the others mentioned. His charts are polished and written it would seem, for individuals who read them to perfection. Most of all, Arturo O’Farrill has complete mastery of varied musical idioms and employs music motifs (the 2nd line strut, blended into Puerto Rican and other Latin folkloric motifs on “On the Corner of Malecón and Bourbon”) with gestures that are graceful and masterly.
The music on this recording seems to be a suite written around its centerpiece, “The Offense of the Drum,” a monumental piece that delves into the musical roots of the African origin of this music. In fact, it goes even further by suggesting the primordial nature of the music itself. As it touches upon these origins the sophistication of musical influences in the music begin to unfold, but not before an earth-shaking collision of cultures occurs. The premonitions for this are actually established oddly enough in Mr. O’Farrill’s take on Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne 3,” from its thunderous opening bars to the ponderous development of the song through a long cadenza, played largely on the saxophone. The rhythm suggests more than a march here; its rhythmic ululations go as far to suggest the rowing of slave-ships from the old countries on their intercontinental voyage and the Spanish vocal paints the picture of this odyssey in a majestic and melancholic manner.
Mr. O’Farrill’s deep commitment to art and the socio-political aspects of the nature of the artist’s obligation to depressed and marginalized sections of society is as bold and audacious as ever. The brilliant piece “They Came,” referring to the native peoples of Puerto Rico is serious in its power and substance. It is also a master-stroke to present this in the rap idiom—an almost umbilical link to struggle. Here Christopher “Chilo” Cajigas is outstanding in the delivery of the words, mixing strident imagery with lyricism. Not only Mr. Cajigas, but also the tenor saxophonist, Iván Renta, alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli and trumpeter Seneca Black are all superb. Each of these musicians leads their sections into what is the finest tonal panoply of sound. Even a cursory listen of “The Offense of the Drum” will bear out the importance of this observation. However, ultimately this is maestro Arturo ’Farrill’s record and what a masterpiece it is.
Track Listing: Cuarto de Colores; They Came; On the Corner of Malecón and Bourbon; Mercado en Domingo; Gnossienne 3 (Tientos); The Mad Hatter; The Offense of the Drum; Alma Vacía; Iko Iko.
Personnel: Arturo O’Farrill: piano and Musical Director; Iván Renta: tenor saxophone; Peter Brainin: tenor saxophone; Bobby Porcelli: alto saxophone; David DeJesus: alto saxophone; Jason Marshall: baritone saxophone; Seneca Black: trumpet; Jim Seeley: trumpet; Jonathan Powell: trumpet; Tokunori Kajiwara: trombone; Frank Cohen: trombone; Rafi Malkiel: trombone and euphonium; Earl McIntyre: bass trombone and tuba; Gregg August: bass; Vince Cherico: drums; Roland Guerrero: congas; Joe Gonzalez: bongos and bell; Pablo Bilbraut: percussion (8); Miguel Blanco: conductor (5, 8); Christopher “Chilo” Cajigas: spoken word (2); Edmar Castañeda: harp (1); Ayanda Clarke: djembe (7); DJ Logic: turntables (2); Jonathan Gómez: percussion (4); Nestor Gomez: percussion (4): Donald Harrison: vocals and alto saxophone (9); Vijay Iyer: piano (6); Hiro Kurashima: taiko drum (7); Chad Lefkowitz Brown: tenor saxophone (7); Jason Lindner: conductor (2); Antonio Lizana: vocals and alto saxophone (5); Pablo Mayor: conductor and maracas (4); Uri Sharlin: accordion (5); Samuel Torres: conductor and cajón (1).
Released – 2014
Label – Motéma Music