Chico O'Farrill is the greatest living composer-arranger of contemporary popular music on the planet. He drew up the blueprint for Afro-Cuban jazz five decades ago ("Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite"), created modern Latin jazz with "Manteca Suite" (1954), collaborates with the heaviest of Dons (Dizzy, Basie, Machito, Kenton, Gato) and recorded his masterpiece (Pure Emotion) at the age of 74. His six-decades-spanning oeuvre ranks him with the likes of Fletcher Henderson, Gil Evans, Quincy Jones and Nelson Riddle.
A long-overdue documentary about the maestro's life and art is coming out later this year. Carambola ain't gonna be the soundtrack, but its brilliant reevaluations of 11 of his mos def show-stoppers and head-trippers smells of yesterday-today-tomorrow stank enough to qualify. Exhibit A: "Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite." Modern recording techniques, plus richer voicings, plus fluid, airier charts, plus 50 years of hindsight, plus Mario Rivera's alto saxophone (vibin' Bird, leitmotifing Gershwin, buckwhylin' the clave), plus a hella Afro-Cubano-intuitive, Tadd Dameron-bop swinging big band, equals prophecy fulfilled and dream surpassed.
"The Aztec Suite" is a similarly rewarding version excursion, but it's the shorter pieces like the foppish high-tea-jazzy bolero "Delirio," the Latin boogaloo groovy, "Manteca Suite"-dreamy, New York minute-bustling "Crazy City (...But I Love It)" and the effervescent "Oye Mi Rumba" (featuring legendary Afro-Cuban diva legend Graciela) that really dazzle.
Carambola is gonna stand.