Dizzy Gillespie honored his African roots in many ways. His chameleonic writing was a testament to this fact. He also, along with Chano Pozo, wrote one of the most famous and seminal Afro-Cuban pieces, the “Manteca Suite,” first recorded by his Orchestra on May 24th 1954. What might not be as widely known is that Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill—who is credited with the work on this album “Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods—wrote and recorded his equally seminal work, “The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite” with the great Charlie Parker sitting in with Machito and His Afro-Cuban Orchestra almost four years earlier on December 21, 1950. In contrast, this album, with just one song and an extended suite was recorded on June 4th and 5th, 1975, two decades later. However, it has all the primordial characteristics that “Chico” O’Farrill used in his music that was informed by his deep Afro-Cuban sensibilities. Mr. O’Farrill’s music was intelligent and sophisticated. His ability to cast the complex rhythmic motifs of dark, African sensibilities with the ever-changing Afro-American jazz idioms was—and continues to be seen as—quite legendary. Although not standards in the sense of the American Songbook, they are nevertheless standard repertoire for any musician who hopes to pay tribute to his or her Afro-Cuban and Afro-American roots.
For his part Dizzy Gillespie was one of the most important musicians to favor a serious working relationship with Afro-Cuban artists and their music. His narrative on how the “Manteca Suite” came to be composed with Chano Pozo singing the bass line is also the stuff that legends are made of. Mr. Gillespie was also well-loved by Cuba and he may also have been said to be a favored son of Cuba. That fact is also accentuated by how well loved and respected a musician he was among his Afro-Cuban brothers. His collaborations with Machito are well-documented and the number of other Cuban musicians also included the likes of Cachao and others with whom he had a wonderful musical relationship. Mr. Gillespie took to clave like a duck to water. He strut his stuff in this rhythmic mode like a native Cuban but combined it with the primal growl and high and lonesome wail that came from his famous horn. That burnished tone and glistening texture were unmistakable and might remain so even if he were never credited with participation on a record. Of course he was far too famous not to be and ensured that many more African-American musicians followed in his footsteps when it came to gaining a deeper understanding of Afro-Cuban music. And this album contributed much to that fact, while it also highlighted “Chico” O’Farrill’s consummate skills as a writer, arranger and conductor.
The music of “Oro, Incienso y Mirra” begins with a fanfare. It is a very tactile way of opening the recoding. In a sense it conveys the sense of mystery that African music will forever hold in the hearts of those who hear it as well as alludes to the gifts that were presented at a famous birth in a manger two thousand years ago. But this allusion is also very sophisticated and literary. The writing spurs both Dizzy Gillespie as well as Machito’s Orchestra to perpetuate and deepen the mystique of Afro-Cuban music with its complex rhythms of African and Cuban percussion as well as harmonies redolent in the shimmer of brass and glistening woodwinds. The suite entitled “Three Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods” also begins with a declarative statement by brass and woodwinds, glued together with a terrific rattle and rumble of drums before it begins. This fanfare is followed with a statement where “Chico” O’Farrill borrows chords from his earlier “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite” of twenty years earlier. But this soon dissipates to reveal fresh writing that begins like a descarga/jam in Afro-Cuban/Jazz studies and then dissolves in to a profound piece of music. This is the “pensive” movement of the suite that precedes the fast-paced finale of the piece. In effect these three distinct movements put this closer to a concerto with Dizzy Gillespie’s horn playing the excited soloist to an orchestra that constantly works to wrestle the music away from the trumpet in a colossal battle of between horn and ensemble.
Track List: Oro, Incienso y Mirra; Three Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods: Calidoscopico; Pensativo; Exuberante
Personnel: Dizzy Gillespie: trumpet Chico O’Farrill: conductor and arranger; Machito: leader, maracas, clave; Orchestra: Victor Paz: trumpet, flugelhorn; Raul Gonzalez: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ramon Gonzalez Jr.: trumpet, flugelhorn; Manny Duran: trumpet, flugelhorn; Barry Morrow: trombone; Jack Jeffers: trombone; Lewis Kahn: trombone (2); Mario Bauza: alto saxophone, clarinet; Mauricio Smith: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Jose Madera Sr. tenor saxophone, clarinet; Leslie Yahonikan: baritone saxophone; bass clarinet; Mario Rivera: tenor saxophone, flute (2); Brooks Tillotson: French horn (1); Don Corrado: French horn (1); Bob Stewart: bass tuba (1); Carlos Castillo: Fender bass; Jorge Dalto: electric piano; Julito Collazo: African drums; R. Hernandez: African drums; Mario Grillo: bongos, cowbell; Pepin Pepin: conga; Jose Madera Jr.: timbales, cabassa; Mikey Roker: drums; Dana McCurdy: synthesizer