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Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra: Song For Chico

Dan McClenaghan By

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Arturo O'Farrill's Song for Chico is a disc that would have done the old man proud. The "Chico" of the title is Cuban-born Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill, the senior (b.1921; d.2001), the visionary Latin jazz composer who wrote, most famously, the "Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite," recorded in 1950 by Machito and his Afro-Cuban Orchestra, with none other than Charlie Parker sitting in the alto saxophone chair. The original recording of the suite can be heard on Charlie Parker South of the Border (Verve, 1995), and on a magnificently rerecorded version on Chico O'Farrill's last recording, Carambola (Milestone, 2000) on which Arturo O'Farrill the younger served as pianist and musical director.

Chico O'Farrill's genius was for blending the sounds of bebop with the Afro-Cuban tradition and tinting it with classical shadings. This set, Arturo's tribute to his father, carries on very much in the O'Farrill tradition. The disc opens with "Caravan," written by Juan Tizol and made famous by Duke Ellington. The sound is bold and brassy, one foot in the streets of San Juan or Havana, the other in the concert hall. The arrangement—by Papo Vazquez—is full of spirited soloing, with trumpeter Michael Rodriguez showing off some Ellingtonian jungle cat growls.

"Such Love," an Arturo O'Farrill original dedicated to Sam Furnace, opens with a stream of waving reeds and a trumpet fanfare that rolls into some lush harmony, followed by an O'Farrill cascade that leads into the multiple percussion. This is music that makes it impossible to sit still, and it's also music that invites serious listening. The arrangements throughout are complex and deftly done, working that "street versus the concert hall" dynamic.

A highlight of this marvelous set is the title tune, penned by Cuban drummer/composer Dafnis Prieto. Brimming with joy, with a mix of musical languages, it stretches Latin jazz to the max.

O'Farrill includes a couple of his father's tunes, the swinging, swaying "Cuban Blues" and the beautifully pensive "The Journey," featuring Jim Seeley's soulful trumpet and O'Farill's delicately nuanced and, like Ellington, too-seldom showcased piano work. It's a gorgeous closing to a set that pushes the boundaries of Latin jazz into new territory. Just as Chico did.

Track Listing: Caravan; Such Love; Picadillo; A Song for Chico; Starry Nights; Cuban Blues; Humility; The Journey.

Personnel: Michael Mossman: trumpet; Jim Seeley: trumpet; John Walsh: trumpet; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Reynaldo Jorge: trombone; Gary Valente: trombone; Luis Bonilla: trombone; Douglas Purviance: trombone; Bobby Porcelli: saxophones; Erica von Kleist: saxophones; Mario Rivera: saxophones; Ivan Renta: saxophones; Pablo Calogero: saxophones; Arturo O'Farrill: piano, artistic and musical director; Ruben Rodriguez: electric and baby bass; Vince Cherico: drums, timbales; Jimmy Delgado: timbales, bongo, bell; Tony Rosa: tumbadora.

Title: Song For Chico | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Zoho Music

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