40 Acres and a Burro (Zoho Music)
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
Released April 8, 2011
Grammy Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2012
Since its founding in 2003, Arturo O’Farrill’s ALJO has become the world’s leading latin jazz big band, with a vast repertory from the genre’s Afro-Cuban classics to dozens of new works especially commissioned by the ALJO, and premiered on their CD recordings. Achieving a GRAMMY nomination for its first (non-ZOHO) release in 2006, the ALJO won the GRAMMY in the Latin Jazz category for his ZOHO big band release “Song for Chico” (ZMR 200804) in 2009.
CD title and closing track “40 Acres and a Burro” (= Mule)is a historic allusion to the Civil War practice of providing farmland to Black slaves who became free men after Union armies occupied areas of the Confederacy in 1865. It can be understood as an ironic reference to the ALJO’s separation from its founding organization at New York’s Lincoln Center and its subsequent re-birth as an independent not-for-profit corporation with annual residencies at “Symphony Space”, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Yep, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra is still here, 3+ years after leaving the womb of institutional life at a great cultural organization in Manhattan. Some said we’d never make it, but here we are, doing pretty well, too! We have our own non-profit organization and a New York concert season, perform internationally, record, provide educational programs in the public schools, commission, and maintain a library of Afro Latin Jazz music that is a unique treasure. We are grateful to our hosts for our birth home, but it is definitely better to be the master of your tidy cottage than a guest in someone else’s mansion.
This recording is a testament to our musical philosophy. We believe jazz and Latin are not separate, but rather an inextricable part of each other. Latin is not three concerts out of a season, or a chapter in the book. The same elements that define jazz are all found in our music. Swing, blues, and improvisation are also part of what we play.
Oscar Hernández is an example of someone who is relegated by some jazz writers to the Salsa world. They could not be more wrong. He has always been a venerated and amazing musician whose compositions and arrangements are hip, informed, and can rightfully be called part of the world of Afro Latin Jazz. Rumba Urbana was originally written for a small group. Here it is arranged for Big Band, and it is a smoker (and always an audience favorite)!
Commissioned by the Bronx Museum, R.D. Rice, and Symphony Space, I composed A Wise Latina to celebrate the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, our nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court appointee. It is written in three sections, the first being the presentation of the idea of justice as an abstract concept, set to Bomba rhythms). The second is the ascendancy of the Justice and the legal diatribe into which she enters. Saxophonist Ivan Renta depicts Ms. Sotomayor arguing for fairness and justice in our land. The third section is the obligatory celebration, though it is gilded with slightly dissonant chords, reminding us we have a long way to go.
Chico O’Farrill, in the words of noted Cuban historian, musician, and writer, Leonardo Acosta, may be the “greatest Afro Cuban jazz musician of all time.” His compositions and arrangements are universally regarded by musicians as masterworks. His arrangement of Almendra is our chance to show off this great musical heritage and our love of playing this kind of music. It does not get more swinging, big, bold, and brassy than this.
Pixinguinha’s Choros are considered a national treasure of the already astonishing music of Brazil. This arrangement of Um a Zero by Proveta has all the earmarks of a great jazz “chart.” I love the sections where the clarinet plays alone against the sax section with a sprinkle of piano. Paquito D’Rivera sparkles with his customary wit and elegance. He is the definitive voice of our times on the instrument, and his virtuosic ease is perfect for performing the technically demanding music of Choro, and making it look easy and masterful.
Afro Peruvian jazz is an example of why I formed this orchestra. Our love affair with the Mambo and Cuban music is important, but to explore all the riches of Latin America, one must eat more than rice and beans. Gabriel Alegria introduced me to the deep musical waters of Peru. The festejo rhythm performed in El Sur has hundreds of variants and is played with impeccable swing by Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón on the traditional percussion instruments Cajón, Cajita and Quijada. Jim Seeley’s thoughtful trumpet solo, joined with Gabriel’s beautiful composition and Michael Collins’ brilliant writing, foretells the future of Latin jazz.
I am a descendant of Irish stock and have always loved Celtic music. We performed a concert of Afro-Latin-Celtic jazz with the amazing composer, saxophonist David Bixler. She Moves Through the Fair was one of the pieces David contributed, and it is achingly beautiful. Heather Martin Bixler (David’s wife) plays violin with astonishing musicality and sweetness. It is not a stretch that this arrangement of a traditional Irish air is on our record. We believe the music we call jazz belongs to the planet and that beauty knows no borders or genres.
I wrote Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba in Cuba whilst spending time with people whose friendship and love gives me hope – hope that the politics that separate us will cease, that oppression and manipulation will end, and that the spirit of freedom takes root individually in our hearts, so that we can exercise it individually and perhaps affect the outcome of political realities. Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba begins with a nod to the great Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés. It continues on a journey through Afro Cuban jazz, flowing from a danzón, continuing with a tribute to The Chacón Sax Quartet, and culminating in a descarga that celebrates the long lasting friendship between the people of Cuba and the United States. It may not be the reality now, but the day is coming, and I, for one, am ready.
There are many brilliant Latin American composers and each country seems to have its central figure. For Argentina that name is Ástor Piazzolla. His works have revolutionized music. Having lived at some point in New York, he had a respect for jazz. Michael Philip Mossman’s treatment of Piazzolla’s Tanguango is a perfect example of the kind of cross pollination that can occur when open minded musicians transcend genres, continents, and even decades. Bobby Porcelli turns in an alto sax solo that captures the fire and passion of tango with the cool and relaxed stance of a veteran jazzman.
Hermeto Pascoal is known for many things. He is a master melodicist who fashioned Bêbe in an outwardly flowing motion. Jovinos Santos Neto’s arrangement captures that forward motion and yet bubbles with rhythmic intensity. Paquito and Jason Marshall’s trade is beautiful, not so much because of the great juxtaposition of range and sound between the clarinet and baritone saxophone, but because they reveal what master musicians really do: they listen, and their interaction is truly inspired by one another.
John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was amongst the first musicians to realize that Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean were as much a part of the real roots of jazz, as New Orleans. He was directly responsible for reintroducing jazz to its Latin roots. A Night in Tunisia is our tribute to this visionary.
Finally, in a spirit of fun and playfulness, we make a lighthearted reference to the “settlement” which the newly emancipated African Americans were offered after the end of the Civil War. They were finally given what really mattered: freedom. It also makes fun of what stereotypes still exist in American culture in regard to how Latinos are viewed. 40 Acres and a Burro was written in four sections: first the burro which is easy to recognize, then the stereotype of the Mariachi minstrels, Latino white noise is the third, and finally the Mozambique with the lovely coro, “La injusticia se acabó,” which translated means “the injustice is over.” Well, you and I know, the injustice is never over. There will always be those who think that they are or what they do is the real deal, defining themselves by what they’re not rather than by what they could be. The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra stands for the possibilities of what can happen when you discard the idea of high and low culture, when you cease to engage in elitist socio-economic pandering, when you invite the pueblo into your heart, into your song and into your day-to-day life. For us, that is where the adventure begins.
1. Rumba Urbana (Oscar Hernandez) 6:24
2. A Wise Latina (Arturo O’Farrill) 6:50
3. Almendra (Abelardo Valdés) 5:23
4. Um a Zero (Pixinguinha) 5:00
5. El Sur (Gabriel Alegria) 8:47
6. She Moves Through the Fair 6:51
7. Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba (Arturo O’Farrill) 4:55
8. Tanguango (Astor Piazzolla) 6:40
9. Bebê (Hermeto Pascoal) 7:32
10. A Night in Tunisia 4:11
11. 40 Acres and a Burro (Arturo O’Farrill) 6:25
Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
Arturo O’Farrill: piano
Ricardo Rodriguez: bass
Vince Cherico: drums
Roland Guerrero: congas
Joe González: percussion
Bobby Porcelli: alto saxophone (lead)
David DeJesus: alto saxophone
Ivan Renta: tenor saxophone (lead)
Peter Brainin: tenor saxophone
Jason Marshall: baritone saxophone
Seneca Black: trumpet
Michael Philip Mossman: trumpet (lead)
Jim Seeley: trumpet
John Walsh: trumpet
Reynaldo Jorge: trombone (lead)
Tokunori Kajiwara: trombone
Earl McIntyre: trombone
Gary Valente: trombone
Gabriel Alegria: conducting
Paquito D’Rivera: clarinet (4, 9)
Pablo O. Bilbraut: guiro (3, 7)
Heather Martin Bixler: violin (6)
Hector Del Curto: bandoneon (8)
Yuri Juárez: guitar (5)
Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón: cajon, cajita, quijada (5)
Sharon Moe: french horn (2)
Jeff Scott: french horn (2)
Guilherme Monteiro: guitar (4)
Adam O’Farrill: trumpet (7)
Recorded May 19 – 20, 2010 at Nola Recording Studios, NYC
Executive Producers: R.D. Rice, Joachim “Jochen” Becker
Associate Producer: Kabir Sehgal
Producers: Eric Oberstein, Arturo O’Farrill
Assistant Producer: Alison Deane
Assistants: Adam O’Farrill, Zack O’Farrill, Kevin Theodore
Engineers: Jim Czak, Bill Moss
Band photo: Jerry Lacay
Photo/Package Design: Jack Frisch
Bandleader Chico O’Farrill created a template of sorts, fusing big band bravura with Latin sounds in his Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra. While his son followed in his footsteps, Arturo O’Farrill has demonstrated a broader vision, looking past the island of his origins and developing a pan-Latin approach to jazz repertoire for his appropriately named Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
With this in mind, O’Farrill finds inspiration in music from Brazil (Pixinguinha’s “Um A Zero” and Hermeto Pascoal’s “Bebê”), Peru (Gabriel Alegria’s “El Sur”), Argentina (Astor Piazzolla’s “Tanguango”) and beyond (“She Moves Through The Fair”) on 40 Acres And A Burro. While these inclusions indicate that musical globetrotting through Latin America is clearly one part of this package, O’Farrill’s originals, which lean toward his Cuban roots (“Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba”) and honor important Hispanic figures like Sonia Sotomayor (“A Wise Latina”), are equally important.
Using his large ensemble, and augmenting the group with various guests for different tracks, O’Farrill is able to create different musical scenarios from piece to piece. Paquito D’Rivera’s clarinet gleefully dances on Pixinguinha’s choro tune (“Um A Zero”), and the clarinetist trades solos with baritone saxophonist Jason W. Marshall on “Bebê.” Heather Martin Bixler reprises her role from The Auction Project (Zoho, 2010), as she delivers another emotionally riveting take on the Irish traditional, “She Moves Through The Fair,” and Yuri Juarez adds some brief, harp-like insertions with his guitar on “El Sur.” While these visitors, along with several other guests, enliven the material, the real stars of the show are the arrangers. Saxophonist David Bixler brings a haunting quality to “She Moves Through the Fair,” Michael Philip Mossman hits solid gold with his bold work on “Tanguango” and “A Night In Tunisia,” and O’Farrill demonstrates his outstanding composing and arranging skills during his two multi-section masterpieces. “A Wise Latina” moves from Bomba rhythms to more majestic environs, ending up in a locale where the percussion can cut loose and Jim Seeley is left to deliver trumpet fireworks, while the title track is built on caricatures, like woozy drunken mariachi music and vocal calls for “beans and rice.”
Throughout the program, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra demonstrates a signature flair for all things spicy, and Arturo O’Farrill continues to define the sound of his own creation, which can simply be called all-inclusive Latin jazz.
Dan Bilawsky (All About Jazz)