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Concert Reviews

Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in Toronto

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Arturo O'Farrill and Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
Arturo O'Farrill and Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra – Photo credit: Danilo Navas

There’s something truly striking about experiencing live music interpreted by a large ensemble, a big band orchestra. Even more if it is a band that carries a cherished musical tradition and history, that keeps alive a legacy for the entertainment and enjoyment of new generations of music lovers. That’s what Arturo O’Farril and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra represent. Having them in Toronto all the way from New York, and for the first time during the Luminato Festival was something to celebrate. We’re talking about a very large ensemble of more than 15 musicians. Only Luminato could have made possible to have them in Toronto. In 2015 Arturo O’Farrill came with a smaller ensemble, a sextet I believe, and they performed with the Cuban “Malpaso Dance Company.” The show of that troupe was very successful and the Luminato programmers decided to bring it back this year, with the added benefit of having Arturo O’Farrill with his full band, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.

Arturo O’Farrill is the son of ArturoChicoO’Farrill (October 28, 1921 – June 27, 2001), widely regarded as one of the master architects of Afro-Cuban Jazz. Chico “was a composer, arranger, and conductor, best known for his work in the Latin idiom, specifically Afro-Cuban jazz or “Cubop”, although he also composed traditional jazz pieces and even symphonic works. Born to an Irish father and a German mother, he played the trumpet early in his career. He composed works for Machito (Afro-Cuban suite with Charlie Parker, 1950) and Benny Goodman’s Bebop Orchestra (“Undercurrent Blues”), and arranged for Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton, among others. In the 1990s O’Farrill led a big band that took up residence at New York’s Birdland nightclub. Chico’s son, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, eventually took over the band.” (wikipedia)

After “Chico” O’Farrill passed away, the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra performed its final concert at Birdland on Sunday, June 26, 2001. In 2002, Arturo O’Farrill formed the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) and until early 2007 it was a resident orchestra of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC). They left JALC “to pursue the twin goals of developing new audiences for big band Latin jazz and creating a robust educational program for young performers. With the support of a group of prominent leaders from the worlds of jazz and Latin culture, O’Farrill launched ALJA (Afro Latin Jazz Alliance) to serve as a non-profit organization that could advance both the performance and educational aspects of this uniquely Pan-American art form.” (https://www.afrolatinjazz.org/about-alja/)

On the evening of June 17, 2018, we were treated to a very spectacular rare show with Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra when they performed their debut concert in Toronto, at the Phoenix Concert Hall. They played some of the now classical tunes from the Afro-Cuban, Latin jazz songbook, like Tito Puente’s “Picadillo” (a tune recorded by pianist Eddie Palmieri and vibraphonist Cal Tjader on their seminal 1966 recording, El Sonido Nuevo). “A Night in Tunisia” (a jazz standard and a signature piece composed by Dizzy Gillespie around 1942), “Wild Jungle” (recorded by Machito & His AfroCubans and written by musical director Mario Bauzá and pianist René Hernández), and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite, written by Chico O”Farrill.

Founder, Editor, Webmaster: Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report, That Canadian Magazine. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

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Concert Reviews

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

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On Thursday, October 13, 2022, representing two generations of Cuban Piano Masters, Hilario Durán and David Virelles got together at Koerner Hall, one of the most magnificent concert venues in Toronto. They were celebrating the release (in Canada) of their new recording Front Street Duets (Alma Records), a project they started working on at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto
Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Both artists were extremely happy of releasing their duet album after these past two years of the unimaginable worldwide health crisis. They were also excited to be in Toronto, and for being able to accommodate their busy schedules to perform their music in front of a very enthusiastic audience. Durán and Virelles expressed their utmost respect and admiration for each other. David from an early age considered Hilario as one of his musical heroes, a musical giant and influential figure in Cuba, in Canada and abroad. Hilario considers David as one of the most important Cuban pianist of his generation, a big star shining globally, from the highly competitive musical scene in New York.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The concert got started started with Epistrophy, the first tune copyrighted by Thelonious Monk, followed by Sophisticated Lady / In A Sentimental Mood, two compositions by Duke Ellington. Next, Durán and Virelles performed four tunes from their new album: 1. Danza Lucumí, (beautifully arranged by Virelles), a song written by Alejandro García Caturla, a Cuban composer who together with Amadeo Roldán, are considered the leaders of Afro-cubanismo, a nationalist musical trend that incorporates Afro-Cuban songs, rhythms, and dances. 2. Challenge, a new composition by Durán. 3. La Malanga (also arranged by Virelles), a composition by Calixto Varona, one of the most important composers from Santiago de Cuba from the XIX century. 4. Guajira For Two Pianos, the first track on the album Front Street Duet, a fiery composition written by Durán.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The first set came to an end with Airegin (an anadrome of Nigeria), a jazz standard composed by American saxophonist Sonny Rollins in 1954.

The second part of the concert started with a solo performance by David Virelles, Canción Estudio, composed by José Antonio “Ñico” Rojas, a prominent Cuban composer and guitarist, considered as one of the founders of the style of Cuban song called filin. Then it was Durán’s turn for an inspired solo performance of Autumn Nocturne (a notable composition written by Russian-born Josef Myrow with Kim Gannon). Durán had previously recorded this tune on his 1999 Justin Time Records release Habana Nocturna, a superb album that feature acclaimed saxophonist, flautist and bandleader Jane Bunnett, and drummer extraordinaire Horacio “El Negro” Hernández.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Next, both pianists performed a set of four pieces written by Hilario Durán for the recording Front Street Duets. 1. David’s Tumbao, a composition dedicated to David Virelles. Durán is well known for his fiery tumbao style when he’s playing. 2. Punto Cubano #1, inspired on the genre of Cuban music known as punto guajiro or punto cubano, a poetic art with music that became popular in the western and central regions of Cuba in the 17th century and consolidated as a genre in the 18th century. 3. Santos Suárez’s Memories pays tribute to the Havana neighbourhood where Durán grew up, where he fell in love with the piano and became a musician. It brings back cherished memories involving his upbringing, his family and close friends. 4. Milonga For Cuba, a very special tribute dedicated to the people who protested in Havana last summer 2021.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

For the encore, Durán and Virelles interpreted a wonderful rendition of Body And Soul, a popular song and jazz standard written in 1930 with music by Johnny Green and lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton. Body and Soul is the track that closes the album Front Street Duets, and also brought to an end a tremendous musical night at Koerner Hall in Toronto.

Photographs by Danilo Navas

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