Reviewed by Thalia Bloom
The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, headed by the charismatically delicious Arturo O'Farrill, definitely deserve their recent Grammy win, as shown by their excellent performance, Musica Nueva II: Latin Jazz Across the Americas. As a whole, the group manages to blend dignity and hilarity as effortlessly as they combine Cuban rhythms with a jazzy swing.
The program of Musica Nueva II: Latin Jazz Across the Americas featured mostly composers other than Arturo or his famed father Chico. O'Farrill chose to feature David Bixler, a composer, along with fiddler and wife Heather Bixler, in appreciation of Irish music, since as he pointed out, "My last name is O'Farrill". Although David Bixler's "Heptagonesque" was pleasing and melodic, it was not as gripping as perhaps sedative. One member of the audience, when closing his eyes in order to listen, fell asleep! However, the jazz accompaniment with Irish fiddle music in "Carolyn's Favorite Jig" and Richard Dwyer's Reel", both traditional Irish pieces, for the most part fit together smoothly and well.
Other composers featured included Fernando Otero, an intense virtuoso pianist with appropriately chaotic hair, who has dubbed his chaotic and note-filled music as "X Tango", and Pablo Mayor, whose music is calmer and more economical. Mayor's music greatly reflects his Colombian roots, in an exemplary fashion. The two said little, due to a clear language barrier, and let their music speak for itself, since they could not explain it in the magnificently articulate way that Arturo O'Farrill explains everything.
Particularly impressive was the display of "Peruvian soul" as Arturo introduced it, from Peruvian musicians who brought both adorableness and ability to the stage. Their leader, Gabriel Alegria, unlike Otero and Mayor, was verbose in both languages, and awfully bubbly as well. Their performance was beautiful; not only was it melodically seductive but also witty. Their percussionist, Freddy "Huevito" Lobaton, played with immense energy the cajon on which he perched. At one point (a lull in the music), he could no longer contain the rhythms within him, and got up and danced. Clearly, the instrument was a physical obstacle between him and musical passion. His abandon was wonderful to behold, as Lobaton is an excellent dancer as well as terrific percussionist. After the dancing, which lasted a good five minutes, he replaced his glasses (safety first!) to tremendous applause. It was an exciting and titillating moment that epitomized the enjoyable quality of the entire concert.
The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra's presentation of "musica nueva", in the end was successful both because of the excellent and enjoyable program, great musicians, and sincere, corny, delightful comments with which O'Farrill punctuated the performances. It showed that musicians of any culture can appreciate each other's work, and create exciting things through ethnic collaboration, instead of ethnic clashing. Even though music is so distinctly made from different societies, races, ethnicities, languages, it can act as a mellifluous, melodious, witty, cultural bridge.
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