In a comical set up to his set at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola that showcased his charms as an entertainer and pianist, Arturo O'Farrill kidded around about Latin music stereotypes.
In a comical set up to his set at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola that showcased his charms as an entertainer and pianist, Arturo O'Farrill kidded around about Latin music stereotypes. Then he introduced the opening number as "not your typical Latin jazz fare." That, the band proved, was no joke.
O'Farrill is best known as the heir to his legendary father Chico O'Farrill’s Afro Cuban jazz big band, and until recently, as leader of the house Latin jazz orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center. For his new sextet, which had its premiere at Dizzy's, he recruited Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto and percussionist Pedro Martinez, along with veteran collaborators bassist John Benitez, Willie Williams on saxophones, and Jim Seeley on trumpet.
Unlike O'Farrill, who is a New Yorker of Cuban heritage, Prieto and Martinez grew up in Cuba, where as members of a Virtuoso Generation, they studied at Havana's conservatory and learned Afro-Cuban folkloric traditions and popular music on the streets and in the clubs.
Since his arrival here in 2000, Prieto has become renowned in jazz circles for his incredibly complex, and in his hands, seamless aggregation of avant-garde jazz and Cuban rhythms. He was the center of attention on Dizzy's stage, where the mere anticipation of what he was going to do next was as mesmerizing as attempting to decipher his dense musical code and watching the athletic movement of his hands and feet.
During what felt like a too brief set at Dizzy's, O'Farrill alternated his romantic side with fierce attacks on the keys. Cowbells and congas joined in a progressive arrangement that spread into a full-blown descarga framed by the clave beat. Playing four congas, Martinez's solo had the effect of a defibrillator on a failing heart. He further called out the Afro-Cuban tradition when he broke into Yoruba chanting in a brief intro to one song.
The show gave some indication of the new energy that's been spreading through the ever-evolving New York Latin jazz scene, which is being revitalized, even revolutionized, by young Cuban and other Latin American talents who have come together in the city in this new century.
While this sextet may not be the perfect combination, O'Farrill’s engagement with these younger players was another demonstration not only of the band leader's expansive approach to Latin jazz, but his commitment to continuing the collaborative spirit from which it was born.