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Arturo O'Farrill Sextet: Detroit Jazz Festival, September 2, 2012

Steve Bryant By

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Arturo O'Farrill Sextet
Detroit Jazz Festival
Detroit, MI
Sept. 2, 2012

This year's Detroit Jazz Festival had so much from the Latin side that one could choose from the genre buffet. If the Puerto Rican plate didn't move you, there was The West Coast flavas and even some Spanish sabor. For the fans of good ol' straight-up Cubop, though, there was pianist Arturo O'Farrill.

A scion of Afro-Cuban Jazz royalty, O'Farrill has attained a high status in jazz circles for his leadership of the Grammy-winning Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. For his first Detroit Jazz Fest appearance, O' Farrill brought in a crack sextet to entertain an enthusiastic crowd on a sultry afternoon. The group included old Latin jazz hands Ivan Renta on sax and Vince Cherico on drums, as well as trumpeter Jim Sealy, bassist Carlos De Rosa, and veteran conguero Roland Guerrero.

O'Farrill jumped-started the set with a rendition of his composition "With Whom I'm Well Pleased," A mid-level burner with solid Afro-Cuban elements. Afro-Cuban purists could be a little taken back with a tune like this, but when one has musical godfathers like Mario Bauza and Dizzy Gillespie, he can take the music easily in a bunch of different directions. On the next tune, "Little General," O'Farrill gave the crowd more of the same, this time with more Cubop in the mix.

Things really started jumping when O'Farrill brought on the "Big Chief" himself, Donald Harrison, to join the party. Now the novice could wonder why O'Farrill would bring on a cat from New Orleans. The fact of the matter is that the musical roots between NOLA and Havana run wide and deep (but that's a whole 'nother story). Plus Harrison has racked up some solid Latin credentials with Eddie Palmieri. O'Farrill did take a trip to Old Havana with a spirited take on the classic "Siboney." Guerrero and Cherico laid down a geared-up danzon rhythm on which O'Farrill and Harrison put their personal flourishes. People forget that O'Farrill is a very accomplished pianist who is as equally comfortable with Monk as he is with Lecuona . O'Farrill then got personal with "Stop and Frisk," his take on NYC police tactics. O'Farrill played the tune as an off-balance mambo, with the highlight of Harrison channeling Sonny Stitt on a full-bore solo. O'Farrill ended the set with a hopped-up version of another classic "Obsession."

The crowd that afternoon in Detroit was treated to a superb set of Afro-Cuban jazz, which allowed them to hear what the New Breed of Afro-Latin players are doing.

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