Review by Brad Walseth
The Latin-American element in Jazz has never been given its due throughout history, whether due to physical distance, cultural bias, or political roadblocks (as in the American blockade of Castro's Cuba), but some of the most exciting music in Jazz history has come from south of the border, so to speak, where the music we call Latin or Afro-Cuban Jazz developed from the same basic elements of slavery, poverty and suppression/resurgence of the indigenous music of the repressed peoples subjugated by the colonial European powers.
Thanks to people like Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Duke Ellington, Chico O'Farrill and many more, the spicy rhythms of timbales and congas and fiery horns seeped into American culture and made their mark on the music we call Jazz. Thanks to efforts like Arturo O'Farrill (and Wynton Marsalis) with the NYC-based Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra as well as Dawrin Noguera and Victor Garcia's local equivalent, the Chicago Afro-Cuban Jazz Ensemble, this wonderful music is being kept alive to be discovered by a new generation. And thanks to U.S.-based Latin composers like Dafnis Prieto, David Sanchez, Michele Rosewoman, Danilo Perez and American composers like David Binney, Donny McCaslin and Chris Washburne, new and intriguing modern music that is heavily influenced by the Afro-Cuban style is appearing to lead the way into the future of Jazz.
One of the most powerful and interesting Afro-Cuban big band recordings to come along lately is Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra's "Song for Chico." Opening with yet another version of "Caravan" no less, but this version of the Juan Tizol composition made famous by Duke Ellington is especially sultry and satisfying, with a tasty arrangement by Puerto Rican trombonist Angel "Papo" Vazquez. Horn players will especially love the middle section when tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and trombonist Reynaldo Jorge have at it. Meanwhile, O'Farrill's trilling piano waves introduce the original "Such Love" which features an intricate horn chart and blazing solos by Luis Bonilla on trombone and Jim Seeley on trumpet. over the chewy rhythm section of O'Farrill, Ruben Rodriguez on bass, drummer Vince Cherico and percussionist Jimmy Delgado and Tony Rosa. World-class musicians all, they combine to create high-energy Afro-Cuban music that is both exhilarating and enjoyable.
Tito Puente's "Picadillo' spotlights O'Farrill's lustrous piano work and Mario Rivera's sparkling muted trumpet, as well as soaring horns and the solid and funky bass of Rodriguez. "Song for Chico" was commissioned from Dafnis Prieto, and the exceptional drummer/composer delivers with a masterpiece of modern Latin Big Band Jazz. When veteran Bobby Porcelli comes in with his soaring alto saxophone solo over O'Farrill's rumbling chords, the chills start, and you get the sense that the Afro-Cuban/Latin genre still has much music left to explore and further develop in the hands of these exceptional young composers like Prieto.
Seeley's slinky "Starry Nights" highlights Rodriquez's deliciously creamy electric bass, while the delightful "Cuban Blues" was originally written for Ballet Hispanico. The talented composer Tom Harrell provided the colorful and dynamic gem "Humility," while O'Farrill's father (the Chico of the title)'s "The Journey" ends this musical journey with Seeley’s haunting melodic trumpet lines hanging over this lovely sunset of a song. The listener may find themselves exhausted and ready to relax after all the fireworks and combustive playing he has just been treated to.