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The Arturo O'Farrill Afro Jazz Band Rocks Spoleto With A Timely Message
6/2/2016 5:03:51 PM

Charleston Chronicle cultural critic Hakim Abdul-Ali, jazz composer and musician Arturo O’Farrill, music critic Larry Blumenfeld and local resident Abdur-Rahman pose for a photo after Mr. O’Farrill and The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra’s May 28, 2016 Spoleto Festival USA performance. Photo: Julian Weller
By Hakim Abdul-Ali

Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Jazz Orchestra literally rocked the joint on its opening performance on Saturday, May 28, 2016, for the first of two scheduled appearances shows for this year's Spoleto Festival USA. The other show was on May 29.

The orchestra, led by the extremely talented pianist and composer Arturo O'Farrill, is an aggregate of some of the finest pure jazz musicians that you'll find anywhere. These brothers are skilled musical craftsmen and are a unique blend of serous musicians who are strong at what they do.

That's the only way you can describe their cohesive sound. Their performance on was a thing of explosive Latin style jazz, if you can perfectly label such sound as that because their collective versatility is well-known and universally recognized.

Having won three Grammy Awards, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, led by artistic director Arturo O'Farrill, is an experience unto itself. It brings together the drama of the big band era music and the meshing of the culture of Latino music within its musical offerings.

The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra members are Tokunori Kajiwara, Frank Cohen, Earl McIntyre, Rafi Malkiel on trombones along with saxophonists Bobby Porcelli, Ivan Renta, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, Larry Bustamante and David DeJesus. The rest of the exclusive band mates are trumpeters Seneca Black, Jim Seeley, Bryan Davis and Jonathan Powell and a rhythm section which comprises bassist Gregg August, drummer Vince Cherico, percussionist and bongo master Carly Maldonado and Tony Rosa on congas.

The show started off with the tune "Rumba Urbana", a vibratory piece that set the tone for the evening with coordinated intensity. Next was the emphatic "Corner of Malecon and Bourbon", a tune featuring saxophonic brilliance that was suspenseful until the very end.

Forever showing immense respect for the greats of jazz, Mr. O'Farrill introduced the next resounding tune, "Triumphant Journey", with dignified references to the fact that jazz is really hard to define because, in his view, it's a fact that jazz is really everywhere in all types of music. The next piece on the program was the melodic "Guajua", a tune that was smooth with the rhythm sections exploring isolated freeness accompanied by Mr. O'Farrill's fiery piano dynamics.

"El Sur", a tune with a distinct Afro-Peruvian flavor, accented by Tony Rosa's rhythmic introductory pulsating fingers, was a tune Mr. O'Farrill introduced as being bigger than nationalism or ideology. The next fare on what was a unique sampling of various cultural musical styles, mixed with a infectious Latino expression, which played with the audience's appreciation of the band's overall prowess.
"Uegara" was an Argentinian piece that started out smoothly but ended up as an explosive extension of the band's outstanding evening's repertoire. That only set the stage for what (unexpectedly) was to follow.

Mr. O'Farrill, an obviously proud Mexican-American with a very aware humanistic sense of identity, caused quite a stir when he introduced the next tune, "Trump, F**k, Trump," a clear reference to to Mr. O'Farrill's disdain for the current Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee. Mr O'Farrill held no punches when he said he was a proud American of Mexican ancestry, who wasn't a drug dealer, nor was he a rapist.
While sitting in the audience, and from my vantage point, I could see that a few of the audience members didn't know what to make of Mr. O'Farrill's direct insinuations about the GOP billionaire's known divisive and published contrary comments.

Mr. O'Farrill labeled Mr. Trump a despot, a tyrant and a terrible human being, who also has said negative things about women, immigration issues and about certain folks' religion. Being a Muslim, I could tell you that Mr. O'Farill was speaking for a lot of unheard voices in this country, who probably agreed totally with where he was coming from, even though they may not have used the exact terminology of Mr. O'Farril's tune's title to express their disagreement with that political candidate.

My own grandchildren's mother and daughter-in-law is a Christian lady of the Hispanic background (Puerto Rican), so I took close to heart what Mr. O'Farrill was saying and feeling. This aware musical leader is a man who is more about things other than music, but he voices the angst against discrimination of any kind in his music also.

The thing that you realize about Mr. O'Farrill is that he's very passionate about his music and he's obviously very, very anti-bigotry in all of its subversive distastefulness. In also saying that Mr. Trump had a lack of eloquence and culture, Mr O'Ferill made no apology for feeling as he does because he's about creating an environment where racism and bigotry no longer exists.

He also said that as an American, it's his right to disagree. When the Trump piece began and played on, the audience was now even more interested in listening to the orchestra to see what was to follow.

After the rollicking Trump piece, the superlative tune "Obsession" rocked the house, closing out what was and will be surely one of the 2016 Spoleto Festival USA's memorable and, I'm sure, most talked about concert. I gave a bonafide thumb's up to Mr. O' Farrill's and the orchestra's expressions and performance.

Their individual vocal and collective musical expressions said more about what real jazz in all of its improvised modes are about. "Let the music play" is the theme of freedom's expression in jazz music is what I've learned and come to know. And it's a place where hate of any kind doesn't belong. Music represents harmony and balance. It's about conveying truth in contextual expressions.

Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Orchestra let it be known that they are more than musicians. They made good on that on last Saturday night as they delivered a timely message that went passed musical ears straight to the consciousness of all musically inclined and fair-minded citizens.


Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Virgil J. MayberrySubmitted: 6/5/2016
Great job Hakim. U make me so proud that U r doing R thing. Continue !

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