Taking The Chill Out Of Autumn: Arturo O'Farrill, Mario Adnet and Somi


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Northerners are like squirrels. Come winter, northerners transform into creatures akin to the squirrel. Stocking up on the last ray of sunlight, natural warmth and high-protein goodies while the increasingly cold winds strip the trees of their multicoloured coats. Northerners adopt the fluffy-tailed creature's autumnal regimen in preparation for the harsh months ahead.

For those who finds no solace in the local hockey team's victories nor in the practice of winter sports, music becomes a mandatory element in the survival kit. And perhaps, when torrid sambas, hot salsas and feverish flamenco guitars prove insufficient in maintaining a strong morale, reinforcement is called in the form of a couple shots of eau-de-vie. That usually does the trick. Mix both, and the bone-chilling winds of winter suddenly becomes more bearable.

The three recordings below—widely different in terms of genre—should be helpful in the period leading up to the winter solstice.

Arturo O'Farrill
Risa Negra
Zoho Music

"If you want a neatly categorized jazz moment, bypass this product," warns pianist Arturo O'Farrill in the liner notes. And indeed, a glance at the list of musicians who participated in the making of this eclectic disc demonstrates O'Farrill's scant concern for stylistic or ethnic based categorization. Boris Kozlov, the bassist, is Russian, Badal Roy is an Indian tabla master, flutist Cecilia Tenconi is Argentinian, saxophonist Ivan Renta is Costa Rican, while others hail from different parts of Latin America and the USA. The only origin-conscious decision is the participation of O'Farrill's pianist-wife Alison Deane and two sons Adam and Zachary (on trumpet and drums respectively). In that regard, there is one notable omission; the absence of his father's compositions. Considering this is "a family affair," the addition of at least one of Chico O'Farrill tunes—such as those performed by jazz's own squirrel-faced icon Dizzy Gillespie—would have made this effort complete.

Although O'Farrill's music defies easy generic labelling, it is undoubtedly Latin in spirit and jazz in substance. "One Adam 12 Mambo" encapsulates both traditions in a single work. An up-tempo jaunt with jumpy, syncopated accents, the tune ends with a lively montuno atop which O'Farrill's outstanding team of percussionists let loose. "Goat Check," on the other hand, is reminiscent of bassist Jaco Pastorius work with Word of Mouth. But the real shockers are "Tabla Rasa: El Salon Cubano" and "Tabla Rasa: Tintal Tintal Deo." The first is a vaporous, classical music-tinged vista that turns into an Afro-Cuban jazz feat, and the second is a capricious, freewheeling piece featuring Badal Roy's talking tablas and Heather Bixler's expressive violin. The range of styles and moods it covers is impressive and speaks volume about O'Farrill's appreciation of the different influences that shape his music.

Mario Adnet & Philippe Baden Powell
Afro Samba Jazz: The Music of Baden Powell
Adventure Music

Like Arturo O'Farrill, guitarist-composer Baden Powell incorporated diverse stylistic elements into his music. Trained at the Musical Conservatory of Rio de Janeiro, the late master guitarist fused techniques borrowed from the classical repertoire to those choro guitarist Jayme Florence had taught him as a young boy. In honour of his great contribution to Brazilian music, guitarist Mario Adnet has assembled a top-notch ensemble and contributed seven arrangements created for the occasion. Powell's son, Philippe, also contributes a few of his own arrangements, and lends his pianistic skills on five of the 14 selections. As a bonus, the disc includes hitherto never recorded compositions. The end product results in a lofty showcase of Powell's talent as a composer, an aspect of his trade often overlooked by non-Brazilians.

Take "Canto De Ossanha," with "Samba Triste" and "Samba De Bencao" one of Powell's best known pieces. A suave Afro-samba with particularly haunting harmonies, it is given a new life thanks to Adnet's velvety voicings and percussionist Armando Marcal's magic touch. A similar feeling oozes out of "Sermao," an unhurried tune whose solo piano section reminds greatly of Pat Metheny "Are You Going With Me?" from the Brazil-bound guitarist's Grammy Award-winning album Offramp (ECM, 1982). Like most of the Pat Metheny Group's music, this record plays well despite its many cliches.

If The Rains Come First

Singer-songwriter Somi is one serious talent. Born in Champaign, Illinois but raised in Ndola, Zambia, she returned to Champaign to earn her undergraduate degree and soon after left for Tanzania and Kenya as part of a humanitarian aid program. In that sense, music is just another activity enabling her to do a good deed. And that she does.

As soon as she intones her first notes it's captivation, seduction, enlightenment and bliss. A caressing track with a bright, syncopated coda, "Hot Blue" opens the disc with Somi's whispered soprano voice breezing over hand percussion patterns. Increasingly riveting as the song progresses, the percussion instruments impel a pair of repeated, hi-pitched 16th note figures which are picked up by both the kit drums and a lower-pitched drum. The pattern acts as a rhythmic leitmotif throughout the track. A common practice in African music, this call-and-response idea is then brought back in the coda—with more prominence—by Somi's multi-tracked vocals. Although the song itself is more than fine, this element of production enhances it considerably, for it ties the music to its traditional African roots while making it deliciously contemporary. Similar touches colour the album, creating a listening experience that is intimate and captivating on both a sensory level and an emotional one.

The first verse of "Wallflower Blues," for example, is one that prompts strong emotions and imagery. "They say that silence is golden/But she knows it can be blue/The well of her stories is dry/And there's just no getting through to you/These are the memories of a wallflower." In a placid, gentle tone, the singer continues, "Pink and blue and green and yellow/She's splashed against the wall/She's begun to bloom and wander/Spring's happening twice before the fall." Even though they are sung pianissimo, such lyrics cannot help but command attention. The ability Somi has of charming the listener with her soft, innocent sounding vocal embrace may well be one of her strongest musical attributes, alongside her flawless vocal technique.

In short, a big two thumbs up to co-producers Michael Olatuja and Michele Locatelli for a truly enjoyable disc. Somi's personality comes through clearly, the artistic direction is well-articulated and the writing is solid. Locatelli also deserves a separate mention for signing the singer to his fledging ObliqSound label, a signing that deserves to prove valuable before long. Yes, she is that good!

So when the forecast predicts freezing temperatures, stay put, relax and listen to music. And remember, in a few months the big chill will be over.

Tracks and Personel

Misa Negra

Tracks: One Adam 12 Mambo; Goat Check; Blue State Blues; The Darknest Is My Closest Friend; No Way Off; Crazy Chicken; Tabla Rasa: El Salon Cubano; Tabla Rasa: Tintal Tintal Deo; Ceviche; Alisonia.

Personnel: Arturo O'Farrill: piano, Fender Rhodes; Jim Seeley: trumpet; Vince Cherico: drums; Boris Kozlov: bass; Roland Guerrero: percussion; David Bixler: alto sax; Heather Bixler: violin; Alison Deane:piano; Adam O'Farrill: trumpet; Zachary O'Farrill: drums; Badal Roy: tabla; Ivan Renta: tenor sax; Ricky Rodriguez: bass; Cecilia Tenconi: flute.

Afro Jazz Samba

Tracks: Canto de Xango; Ritmo Ai Ro; Caxanga de Oxala; Nhem Nhem Nhem; Lamento de Exu; Canto de Ossanha; Lamento de Preto Velho; Sermao; Canto de Yamanja; Pai; Alode; Berimbau; Yansan Suite; Domingo de Ramos.

Personnel: Mario Adnet: guitar; Philippe Baden Powell: piano; Marcos Nimrichter: piano, accordion; Jorge Helder: bass; Jurim Moreira: drums; Armando Marcal: percussion; Ricardo Silveira: guitar; Henrique Band: alto sax; Eduardo Neves: tenor sax, flute; Teco Cardoso: baritone sax; Jesse Sadoc: trumpet, flugelhorn; Everson Moraes: trombone; Philip Doyle: French horn; Andrea Ernest Dias: alto flute, flute; Vittor Santos: trombone; Hugo Pilger: cello; Cristiano Alves: clarinet, bass clarinet; Joana Adnet: clarinet; Aquiles Moraes: trumpet; Carlos Negreiros: vocals; Monica Salmaso: vocals; Maucha Adnet: vocals.

If The Rains Come First

Tracks: Hot Blue; Prayer To The Saint Of The Brokenhearted; Wallflower Blues; Be Careful, Be Kind; Enganjyani; Rising; Changing Inspiration; Kuzunguka; If The Rains Come First; Jewel Of His Soul; Maybe Then.

Personnel: Somi: vocals; Herve Samb: guitar; Hugh Masakela: trumpet (5); Michael Olatuja: bass, programming, keyboards; Toru Dodo: piano, Fender Rhodes; Madou Kone: percussion; Nathaniel Townsley: drums; David Hunter: vocals; Alicia Olatuja: vocals; Julien Machet: vocals; Michele Locatelli: guitar (4); David Gilmore: guitar (5); Liberty Ellman: guitar (7).

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