NYC Jazz Record, December 2018
ARTURO O’FARRILL and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Fandango at the Wall:
A Soundtrack for the United States, Mexico and Beyond (Resilience Music, 2018)
CD review by John Pietaro
O’Farrill’s double-CD extravaganza is as strong a celebration of Latin culture as it is a response to the odious rhetoric spewing out of DC. Released shortly before the mid-term elections, as Trump daily vilifies a refugees’ caravan as a “criminal invasion”, this global statement is timely, indeed. The liner notes by producer/multi-instrumentalist Kabir Sehgal, reminds us that complacency about such antagonism is dangerous “because this distrust and suspicion, left unchecked, can turn into darker forces”. With that O’Farrill sought to create an event based on fandango, the annual musical and cultural event at the border of Veracruz and San Diego. He and Sehgal partnered with Jorge Francisco Castillo, the founder of fandango, in this “project which tears down the human-made walls that form between people”. This album is the first of a three-part project seeking to reinforce cross-border relations between the US and Mexico; to follow are a history book (with a foreword by David Brinkley) and documentary about the son jarocho musicians of Veracruz.
It’s impossible to separate this work from its resistance politics, but the bacchanal built into most every cut insures the joy of pure listening. The melodies, both soaring and lush, are realized through bristling orchestrations of churning rhythms, global voicings, flowing improv and top-tier soloists. The strength of O’Farrill’s 18-piece Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra engaging with thirty international musicians over thirty-three cuts will set stereos afire. Adding to the urgency, much here was recorded live. Among the guests are violinist Regina Carter, oud player Rahim Al Haj, hip hop artist Ana Tijoux, violin trio the Villalobos Brothers, cellist Akua Dixon, a wealth of son jarocho musicians and many more. Of course, O’Farrill’s band swings and burns throughout.
The O’Farrill band kicks into a full-throttle “Xalapa Bang!”, serious big band jazz built on sizzling samba. Vocalist Mandy Gonzalez takes the lead along with soloists O’Farrill, the Villalobos Brothers (who also composed the work) and bari saxist Larry Bustamante—and during the montuno section, drummer Vince Cherico absolutely takes flight. “Somos Sur”, a compelling Latin/Hip Hop fusion features the throaty voice of Ana Tijoux tangling with a mariachi-influenced brass section and the explosive trombones of Rocky Amer and Frank Cohen. Within the confluence of sounds and cultures, you may note a Central European tinge within the horn riffs. A focal point of this collection, however, is O’Farrill’s enthralling “Invisible Suite” placed over three cuts of the first disc: “Invisible Cities”, “Free Falling Borderless” and “Invisible Beings”. This is a deftly arranged modern orchestral work powered by bristling Latin rhythms and smoking solos with ethereal segments and the silvery vocals of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Here, Regina Carter shines as if voluntarily possessed by the spirit of Leroy Jenkins. Later sections of the piece also incorporate the New Haven String Quartet, bassist Gregg August and trumpet player Seneca Black.
The album includes so many stunning musicians and speaks out on so many relevant issues, that it’s impossible to cover all in a single review. Suffice to say that “Fandango at the Wall” exemplifies political art as successful in its creative aims as in its demand for social justice. As Sehgal states, “we as artists and activists continues to create the world in which we want to live”.
Arturo O’Farrill- director, composer, conductor, arr, pno, kybd;
AFRO LATIN JAZZ ENSEMBLE: Rocky Amer-trb; Gregg August-acous bs; Alejandro Aviles-alto/sop sax, fl; Seneca Black-trp; Larry Bustamante-bari sx, bs clar; Vince Cherico-dr; Frank Cohen-trb; Bryan Davis-trp; Carlos Jiminez-congas, perc; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown-ten sx, clar; Carlos Maldonado-perc; Rafi Malkiel-trb; Earl McIntyre-bs trb; David Neves-trp; Juan Renta-ten sx, fl; James Seeley-trp; Alexa Tarentino-alto/sop sx, fl.
SPECIAL GUESTS: Rahim Al Haj-oud, voc, composer; Regina Carter-vln; Akua Dixon-clo; Humberto Flores-gtr, jarana, composer; Mandy Gonzalez-voc; Jose Gurria-Cardenas-guest conductor/composer; Issa Malluf-perc; Sahba Motallebi-setar; Antonio Sanchez-composer, dr; Sourena Sefati-santur; Kabir Sehgal-bs, Leona, voc, perc, composer, arr; Ana Tyoux-voc, composer; Alberto Villalobos-vln, vla, composer, voc; Ernesto Villalobos-vln, voc, composer; Luis Villalobos-vln, voc, composer
SAN JARACHO ARTISTS: Patricia Hidalgo Belli-jarano, voc, composer; Ramon Gutierrez Hernandez-requinto, voc, composer; Taco Utrera-leona, voc; Fernando Guadarrama Olivera-jarana, voc, composer; Jorge Francisco Castillo-jarana, voc; Wendy Cao Romero-jarana, zapateado; Martha Vega Hernandez-zapateado; Jacob Hernandez-marimbul; Jacob Hernandz-marimbul; Citali Maribel Canales-voc, zapateado; Alfredo Herrera (Godo)-perc, voc; Padi Jackson-voc, zapateado; Eduardo Castellanos-jarana, voc; Minerva Alejandro Perez-zapateado; Gabriel Garcia-tres Cubano; Zenen Zeferino-jarana, voc; Claudia Montes-jarana, voc; Julia del Palacio-zapateado; Sergio Ramirez-gtr, jarano
GUEST ARTISTS: Livia Almeida-ten sx, fl; Scott Engelbright-trp; Sharon Moe-fr horn; Maulik Zaveri-tablas
CHORUS: Cenzontle Ensemble Escenico Vocal, Sistema AUKA del HBC; Young People’s Chorus of NYC
OVERDUB PIANISTS: Sabina Chi, Dana Saul, Arturo O’Farrill