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Arturo O'Farrill and the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra: Final Night at Birdland

Jack Bowers By

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On June 26, 2011, Arturo O'Farrill and the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra ended a fifteen-year run at New York City's Birdland, and—to our good fortune—had the foresight to record that very special event for everyone to hear and appreciate. The orchestra's scion, the great Chico O'Farrill, was still living when the ensemble made its debut at Birdland 1997. When he passed away four years later, son Arturo took the reins, guiding the orchestra for more than thirteen years through its regular Sunday evening performances.

On this Final Night, the orchestra plays mostly music either written or arranged by Chico, opening with his three "Afro Cuban Jazz Moods" and continuing through Luis Miguel's even-tempered "Delirio" and Mario Bauza's five-movement "Tanga Suite" (both arranged by Chico) and Chico's rhythmically dynamic "Havana Blues" before crowning the concert with Arturo's "Fathers and Sons, From Havana to New York and Back Again," on which two of the leader's sons—trumpeter Adam and drummer Zachary O'Farrill—carry the banner forward with guest appearances. When an orchestra has been together as long as this one, its members can almost read each other's minds; that is to say, they are not only on the same page but more often the same word or sentence. There are no missteps here, and the crystal-clear recorded sound further enhances the band's dynamism and cohesion.

While everything is admirable, the "Tanga Suite" is especially persuasive, its colorful segments consisting of a Cuban lullaby, a mambo, Cuban ritual, bolero and rumba abierta. The soloists are pianist Arturo O'Farrill, trumpeters John Walsh and Matt Hilgenberg, tenor saxophonist Jed Levy, trombonists Sam Burtis and Gary Valente, conguero Tony Rosa and percussionist Joey Gonzalez. Tenor Peter Brainin and trumpeter Pete Nater are superb on "Havana Blues," and there are impressive statements elsewhere by alto David Bixler and trumpeter Jim Seeley. Adam O'Farrill introduces the animated "Fathers and Sons," soloing with dad Arturo and guest tenor Michael Herrera.

There's no doubt the orchestra wanted to make its Final Night at Birdland memorable, a goal that was not only reached but, some may argue, surpassed. For those who love Latin and Afro Cuban jazz, it doesn't get much better than this.

Track Listing: Introduction; Three Afro Cuban Jazz Moods (Kaleidoscopic / Pensativo / Exuberante); Delirio; Tanga Suite; Cuban Lullabye; Mambo; Cuban Ritual; Bolero; Rumba Abierta; Havana Blues; Fathers and Sons, from Havana to New York and Back Again.

Personnel: Arturo O’Farrill: piano, music director; John Walsh: trumpet; Jim Seeley: trumpet; Pete Nater: trumpet; Matt Hilgenberg: trumpet; David Bixler: alto sax; Todd Bashore: alto sax; Peter Brainin: tenor sax; Jed Levy: tenor sax; Maximilian Schweiger: baritone sax; Gary Valente: trombone; Sam Burtis: trombone; Kajiwara Tokunori: trombone; Jack Jeffers: bass trombone; Greg August: bass; Vince Cherico: drums; Tony Rosa: congos; Joe Gonzalez: bongo, bell. Special guests — Adam O’Farrill: trumpet; Zachary O’Farrill: drums; Michel Herrera: alto sax.

Title: Final Night at Birdland | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Zoho Music

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