A frequenter visitor returns, with orchestra

Submitted 2 months ago
Created by
Rebecca Bailey

Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra at the Hop, Friday, October 5

Here in the Upper Valley, we've been lucky enough to have had many visits from pianist, composer and bandleader Arturo O'Farrill. As a guest artist with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble at Dartmouth College, Arturo brought his incredible feel for Afro Latin music to numerous Winter Carnival concerts.

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So it's a special pleasure to have him back, this time with his full, 18-member Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, with whom he'll perform on Friday, October 5, 8 pm  in Spaulding Auditorium of Hopkins Center. Following the performance, O'Farrill and his friend, retired Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble Director Don Glasgo of Norwich, will have an informal onstage discussion.

Not quite all 18 of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.

Formed by O’Farrill in 2006, the ensemble combines the grandeur of big band jazz with the visceral, varied textures of Latin music. The 18 members are the cream of New York's Latin music, handpicked by Arturo for the bone-deep feel they each possess for the fluid but complex rhythms of the music of the Caribbean and Latin America.  Together they walk in the footsteps of Latin jazz greats like Tito Puente, Frank “Machito” Grillo and Arturo’s father Chico—and update the tradition with new commissions from such innovators as Vijay Iyer, Dafnis Prieto and Michele Rosewoman.

O’Farrill brings a musical background that spans the Americas and the generations. The son of Cuban composer and bandleader Chico O’Farrill, who played a central role bringing Cuban rhythms into New York jazz orchestras in the 1940s and ’50s, Arturo was born in Mexico City and grew up in Manhattan, uneasy with his Latino identity.

Coming of age as a pianist in the late 1970s, O’Farrill felt he had to choose between straight-ahead jazz and Latin music, a decision which profoundly shaped his identity, he told the East Bay Times. “I rejected so much of my Latino-ness because there were no real role models for people who transgressed the genre line,” he said. He felt he had to choose between the straight-ahead jazz camp and the Latin music world.

Over time, he came to recognize his rich musical legacy. In the early ’90s, he began playing with the pioneering Latin jazz Fort Apache Band led by the brothers Andy and Jerry Gonzalez (on bass and trumpet/percussion, respectively). In 1995, he helped his father to a late-career resurgence by running a revived Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. His own band grew directly out of Chico’s and served as a Jazz Orchestra at Lincoln Center’s house ensemble from 2001 to 2007.

Arturo, at center, without an instrument (hard to carry a grand piano into the street), in 2004 with the Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Ensemble.

The New Yorker called the group “one of the best jazz orchestras in existence, a powerhouse outfit whose precise section work is enhanced by thrilling soloists,” while The New York Times praised its ability “to handle dizzyingly complex music with earthy joy." The late pianist Bebo Valdés, an icon in Cuban music, called the group “the finest band I have ever performed with in my life. They make me feel as if I have returned to Cuba."

Don't miss this Hopkins Center treat! Meanwhile, you can see a stripped-down version of the orchestra, an octet, perform a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR:


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