Boss Level (Zoho)

Arturo O’Farrill Sextet

Released March 4, 2016

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review




I used to hate video games and blamed the world’s evils on them. That’s easy to do, blame something unrelated for something else. Then I had offspring. One Christmas I relented and we got a game system. Christmas Eve, I started to gift wrap the system and thought “why not?” Let’s make sure this thing works and is age appropriate (I was 37 at the time).
Three hours later, I feel exhilarated. I’ve been floating, running, jumping, swimming, sliding, disappearing, materializing and having an amazing time. All set to a cartoonlike music that is as wide stylistically as the worlds are geographically. And what worlds: desert worlds, underwater worlds, space worlds, haunted worlds, an endless assortment of colors, sights, and sounds.

At every world, one gains mastery over skills that allow you to move to the next, balancing, thinking, timing, and reflex skills. It’s either learn them or game over. At the end of each world, you must fight the boss. And, me oh my, what bosses! Big rainbow-colored bosses, slithery serpent-like bosses, tiny bosses, bosses that breath fire, bosses that stomp on you, in short, bosses with no charm whatsoever.
Believe it or not, life is somewhat like this, a place of magic and adventure, a place of many worlds, many skills and, most certainly, evil and un-charming battles. But herein lies the tale. As you rise to meet the challenges the universe throws at you, as you slay the dragons and bosses that would steal from you your joy and essence, you realize that, like a video game, none of this really belongs to us, that joy comes from within, from your determination, from your mastery, and that until you get that final game over, this is a fine place to be after all.

And so began in our family a lifelong love of gaming that is only superseded by our love of music. My sons, their friends, and I have gamed together and individually ever since. We still to this day gather around the idiot box, fire up a disc or a cartridge, and enter into the ancient past, the distant future or just alternate realities.
This recording took place after a week performing at Birdland with this sextet, we had so much fun, it felt like the greatest video game ever. We spent every night floating, running, jumping, swimming, sliding, disappearing, materializing, and having an amazing time. We certainly beat the boss level and walked away with the greatest prize ever, the experience and this recording.

I have worked with my sons, Zack and Adam O’Farrill, many times, however I don’t think of this as a family band. These are just great young musicians that are thrilling to play with. They are fearless, they need no safety net, they jump through meters, and fly amongst changes with impunity.
Travis Reuter, Shawn Conley, and Livio Almeida as well, throwing themselves into these pieces with abandon and yet with purpose and clarity. They float through the most difficult material with soul and style. No, this is no family band. Just people I love to play music with… (and video games).

It is my prayer that you also get a sense of that abandonment, that free play, that childlike wonder, and that feeling that no matter what charmless boss you face, no matter what fire-breathing, chain-stomping dragon is on your tail, you will kick its ass and land right side up, fireworks a’ roaring and the princess (or prince) by your side.
Miss Stephanie: When The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra parted ways with Jazz at Lincoln Center, we weren’t sure if the world would care. Stephanie Simon of New York One Cable News network did, and she gave us our first major news coverage. Over the years she’s been the friend of countless jazz musicians in New York. She has covered our activities and befriended us in a way that we deeply appreciate. I have no real way to thank people sometimes other than to write music that celebrates the way they’ve stood with us. Stephanie, from all of us and from the deepest part of us, thank you!!!

True That: I had a friend who was fond of reconstructing reality and yet a charming person. We all know someone like that, a great personality with a penchant for enlarging the truth (or even just making it up). The thing is after awhile they begin to believe their fibs and you need to learn to love them from a distance. This piece is not so much about this individual as it is about seeing something that looks right but somehow you know it’s slightly off. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I love things that are slightly strange. You can’t put your finger on it but you know it is not standard issue.
The Moon Follows Us Wherever We Go: People love this piece wherever we play it. I warned Adam not to write music that people love, they’ll ask for it and he’ll have to play it forever. In this case, the piece has substance galore and will never bore. The melodic construction flows effortlessly and the manipulation of rhythmic phrasing is displacement. The effect is somewhat like the passage of a large body through the sky that moves in a detached manner, not slow, not quick, but defiantly there. The moon is no respecter of persons and we are all equal in its effect.

Circle Games: It is a deceptively simple melody, almost childlike. It floats above some very advanced harmony and an odd meter, yet it feels like none of these things. It is the most clear-speaking composition on the recording. The tone of it comes from Zack’s true personality, celebratory but childlike, complex but simple, very much unhurried, and absorbed in the moment.We have been known to poke fun at him as a family for not being “fast” and moving slowly, ‘Tis a good thing.
Maine Song: Adam has a love of simple. It is his secret. It is our joy. This was written upon the occasion of one of our trips to this beautiful and serene state. We’ve been to Deer Isle and to Bar Harbor several times, and I like to think that the simple, rocky and deeply beautiful coast of Maine is a lot like Adam’s personality. Adam is by far the best gamer out of us three and I believe that he has discovered the secret to video games, focusing on the simplest element of the task at hand. Listen to this piece and hear this stark quality. It speaks from deep within and goes out like a quiet shout.

Compay Doug: I know another like me, a gentleman of a certain age who is well into his second (or third, fourth etc.) childhood. He still sees the world as a limitless possibility and knows the dragons from the heroes (being one himself). Cynthia Elliot commissioned this piece for her husband Doug Rice, with whom I share this passion for colors, sound, sensations, and beauty.
Not Now, Right Now: The great trombonist and composer, Papo Vazquez, whom many of us call the admiral, is a friend from whom I’ve learned much. He is demanding and fierce, but driven by the real passion in music, the call for clarity, truth and undiluted heart. His compositions reflect this and have that greatest (and most elusive) quality, the heart and emotion of the composer. This, you can’t fake, you can’t learn, and you can’t manufacture. It comes from being a person driven by a quest for real friendship, real love and real life. Thanks Papo for being one of my deepest teachers.

In Whom I Am Well Pleased: Zack amazes me. His playing is fluid and virtuosic and not just in a technical manner but in a hard-core, “find the center of the groove” manner. He is as informed by mambo as by swing and Slavic soul, truly multilingual in his playing, a young musician for whom centrism and classicism hold no bondage. I wrote this for him and it is as much about his person as about his music. He is like he plays, free, easy, open, caring and genuine.
V. F. S. Travis came into our lives like a bolt of lightning. He plays like no one else, writes like no one else, and sees things like no one else. This composition is an example of that. VFS stands for “Vamps for Sale” and the music was written during his music school days when he imagined himself standing in front of the New School selling musical vamps. This is a difficult piece to play, employing complex meter changes and melodic displacement, but it never manages to feel academic or studied. It is, like Travis, a different take on things. We need more like him.

Peace: I have recorded this Horace Silver masterpiece before and have been playing it for as long as I can remember. The world is engaged in many wars. We as a nation have been involved in continuous conflict for almost as long as we’ve been a people. Sometimes for just causes, sometimes for unjust, but never without the consequence of what it does to our very souls. This is my prayer: that my children (or theirs) will see a moment in our beloved nation’s history where we are not at war or responsible for the bloodshed of any other human beings.
Conclusion: People always ask me how it feels playing music with my sons. They ask me if I’m proud of them. I have to say that what we do on stage is an extension of what we do at the dinner table, in the living room, or in the park. We’ve always hung together and have enjoyed eating Mama Deane’s crazy chicken, beating the Boss level in Zelda, or throwing a frisbee in Prospect Park. When I look out across the stage and see my sons playing at such an incredibly accomplished level, I am not so much impressed by their skill as by their humanity. More than great musicians, they’re truly cool people. Humble, fun, funny, simple and, most importantly, as generous as any human beings I’ve known. This is the secret of their musical mastery. The same can be said of our friends whom we hang out with on this recording. They are all really cool and humble people. Of that I’m proud.

Arturo O’Farrill (October 2015)

Track Listing:

1. Miss Stephanie 8:33
2. True That 7:18
3. The Moon Follows Us Wherever We Go 9:11
4. Circle Games 7:50
5. Maine Song 7:13
6. Compay Doug 8:47
7. Not Now, Right Now 5:06
8. In Whom I Am Well Pleased 9:29
9. V. F. S. 6:31
10. Peace 4:22


Arturo O’Farrill: piano

Adam O’Farrill: trumpet

Zack O’Farrill: drums

Livio Almeida: tenor saxofone

Travis Reuter: guitar

Shawn Conley: bass

Recorded September 8 2013, at Peter Karl Studios, Brooklyn, NY, by Peter Karl,

Produced by Alison Deane and Arturo O’Farrill

Mixed and mastered by Arturo, Zack and Adam O’Farrill, and Peter Karl

Cover artwork: Jill DeGroff

Photography by: Melanie Futorian

Art Direction and Package Design: Jack Frisch

Executive Producers: Alison Deane & Joachim “Jochen” Becker


You might expect a recording inspired by a love of video games to sound sterile, antiseptic or cold. This is anything but. A paean to his family’s lifelong love of gaming, pianist-composer Arturo O’Farrill’s Boss Level is brimming with visceral appeal and bristling with fresh ideas from a crop of fearless young improvisers: Brazilian tenor saxophonist Livio Almeida, searing guitarist Travis Reuter, bassist Shawn Conley and O’Farrill’s talented sons Adam on trumpet and Zack on drums. They come charging out of the gate with a vengeance on Arturo’s hard-boppish romp, “Miss Stephanie.” Fueled by Zack’s surging, swinging pulse, it features robust, probing solos from Almeida and Adam, and a distortion-laced legato solo from Reuter. Arturo’s thorny “True That” is almost Ivesian in its craggy abstraction and features some freewheeling explorations from the composer on piano. Trumpeter Adam contributes the beguiling, melodically flowing piece “The Moon Follows Us Wherever We Go,” which features some beautifully introspective piano work from his father. And drummer Zach opens his “Circle Games” in lockstep with bassist Conley on a second-line-sounding groove. Reuter’s dense and edgy “V.F.S.” mirrors some of the same qualities of Steve Coleman’s Five Elements in its angular rhythmic drive and odd meters. And for a change of pace, they close on a restful note with a sparse, gentle reading of Horace Silver’s “Peace.” From track to track, this daring sextet keeps throwing surprises at you.

Bill Milkowski (DownBeat)