LIVE: Arturo O’Farrill Septet @ Massry Center, 10/16/15

November 3rd, 2015, 2:00 pm by Greg

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Photographs by Cheri Bordelon and Andrzej Pilarczyk

It’s easy to understand why Massry Center majordomo Sal Prizio introduced his headliner on Friday, October 16th as “the Arturo O’Farrill Latin Jazz Septet,” as the super-talented pianist/composer/educator is pretty much synonymous with that sub-genre: Between his work with his own Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and his father Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, he has become the primary ambassador for this rich vein of musical beauty first imported to this country by Dizzy Gillespie (a former employer of O’Farrill’s). But as O’Farrill amply demonstrated over his band’s fire-breathing 90-minute set, Latin Jazz is not all he’s about.

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Yes, there were more than a few moments that could be described as Latin in nature, and the resounding presence of percussionist Carlos “Carly” Maldonado certainly added to those instances. That said, O’Farrill’s in-the-clear introduction to the opener “Not Now, Right Now” had its roots in the fertile soil of George Gershwin, and his solo on trumpeter/son Adam O’Farrill’s pastoral-yet-muscular “Monet” could have come from a very intense European classical piece. Adam is an apple that definitely doesn’t fall far from the tree: His solos owed far more to Louis Armstrong than Arturo Sandoval, his deep dark composition “True, That” was firmly based in modern jazz, and his father described Adam’s closing, untitled composition as “New Orleans Latin Reggaeton Zulu Baptist Funk.”

Adam wasn’t the only O’Farrill progeny onstage, as drummer Zachary O’Farrill joined with Maldonado and awesome bassist Carlos De Rosa (whose solo on Arturo’s “Clump and Unclump” was simply epic) to form a titanic rhythm section that stretched O’Farrill’s canvas into any shape he wanted; Maldonado was particularly adept at detail work, adding everything from shakers to cabasa to triangle when the moment called for it. Travis Reuter’s mercurial guitar was definitely not in the Latin Jazz tradition, and he became the kind of game-changing X-factor Mike Stern was in Miles Davis’ early comeback band. Like their leader, this group went right for the throat and stayed there right on through.

Like Lincoln Center resident Wynton Marsalis, it is with orchestral work that Arturo O’Farrill has been making his biggest marks. Unlike Marsalis, O’Farrill has no compunction about taking a smaller unit out and letting his freak flag fly. It is in this matrix where O’Farrill can be seen for the well rounded, thoughtful, and eminently powerful artist he is. Given the rampant performance he and his septet laid on Massry Center, hope springs eternal for more “small shows” in the future.

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