Favorite Sons of Cuba and New Orleans explore the common roots of Jazz / Cuba Nola – More than the Spanish Tinge

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Arturo O’ Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra with special guest Donald Harrison Jr. at Symphony Space, Saturday February 26, 2011

Performance Review by Tomas Peña

Fresh from a triumphant trip to Cuba, Arturo O’ Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra kicked off their fourth season at Symphony Space with Cuba Nola – More Than the Spanish Tinge, a celebration of the music of New Orleans and Cuba and an exploration of the common roots of jazz.

The performance paired Cuban bandleader, pianist, composer Arturo O’ Farrill, son of renowned composer, arranger, trumpeter, Chico O’ Farrill (1921-2001) and New Orleanian, Donald Harrison, son of the legendary Donald “Big Chief” Harrison Sr. (1933-1965). Harrison (Jr.) is the originator of Nouveau Swing, a style of music that merges acoustic swing with modern R&B, second-line, hip-hop, New Orleans African American roots culture, and reggae.  

The show opened with a typical New Orleans second-line, followed by Iko, Iko a catchy Mardi Gras song that made the Top 40 charts in the 60s. Harrison’s biographical I Am the Big Chief of Congo Square merged “Indian Blues” with Latin percussion and O’ Farrill’s Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba took the audience on a journey through the history of Afro Cuban Jazz, from traditional Cuban danzon to a scorching descarga (jam session).

One of the most thrilling numbers was Fathers and Sons, from Havana to New York and Back, featuring upstarts, trumpeter Adam O’ Farrill and drummer Zack O’ Farrill, who ably held their own with Donald Harrison and trombonist Tokunori Kajiwara.

During the intermission, a short film about the Afro Latin Jazz Academy of Music was presented. Now in its fourth year, the ALJAM is an in-school residency program dedicated to providing instruments and ensemble instruction to under-privileged middle and high school students throughout New York City. The programs overarching mission is to expose students to all types of music in the hope that someday they will choose their own musical path.

The second-half was a showcase for Donald Harrison, who demonstrated that he can play it all – from traditional New Orleans to swing, bop, post-bop, modern, smooth, avant-garde and beyond. Quantum Leap demonstrated his ability to combine complex meters without sacrificing swing and groove; Sandcastle Headhunters combines the jazz, funk and swing of the Headhunters with the music of Jimi Hendrix; Sincerely Yours is a soulful ballad that speaks for its self. O’ Farrill’s Corner of Malecon and Bourbon combined shades of Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus and Charlie Parker with elements of ragtime and a driving Cuban montuno and the title piece of the ALJO’S new recording, 40 Acres and a Burro lampoons the 40 Acres and a Mule African Americans were offered after the Civil War and stereotypes of Latinos that exist in American culture. The tune begins with a parody of mariachi music and shades of Stravinsky, then traverses the globe and closes with a sizzling Mozambique as the chorus chants, “La injusticia se acabo” (“the injustice is over”).

Arturo O’ Farrill is an articulate speaker, but perhaps his most profound statement of the evening was, “This ain’t a museum band!” As Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote, “Mr. O’ Farrill has honed the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra to handle dizzyingly complex music with earthly joy.”

For those who missed the event, be sure to check out the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestras most recent recording, 40 Acres and a Burro (Zoho Music) as well as Adam and Zack O’ Farrill’s debut recording, Giant Peach (Zoho Music).

Last but not least, let’s hear it for the orchestra: Seneca Black (Trumpet), Peter Brainin (Tenor Saxophone), Vince Cherico (Drums, Timbales), David DeJesus (Alto Saxophone), Joe Gonzalez (Bongos, Percussion), Roland Guerrero (Congas), Reynaldo Jorge (Trombone), Tokunori Kajiwara (Trombone), Jason Marshall (Baritone Saxophone), Earl McIntyre (Bass Trombone), Michael Mossman (Trumpet), Bobby Porcelli (Alto Saxophone), Ivan Renta (Tenor Saxophone), Ricardo Rodriguez (Bass), Jim Seeley (Trumpet), Gary Valente (Trombone), John A. Walsh (Trumpet).

To learn more about the Arturo O’ Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance visit: http://www.afrolatinjazz.org/.

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