Song for Chico
Arturo O’Farrill could have taken the easy way out and chosen to keep his own identity separate from the legacy of his late father, the Latin big-band leader Chico O’Farrill. Embracing it was the wiser choice: This set of eight brassy vamps—the second release by the Afro-Latin Orchestra, following 2005’s Grammy-nominated Una Noche Inolvidable—pays homage to the elder’s brand of postwar Latin-jazz while bringing to it a decidedly modern sass.
The opener, “Caravan” (indelibly associated with Ellington but written by Puerto Rican trombonist Juan Tizol), sets the tone: The thrilling, expansive arrangement by Angel “Papo” Vazquez restores to the staple the ethnicity bled from it in so many other versions. Piled-on brass solos elevate the slinky mid-tempo reading into a tension-driven, sensual romp while O’Farrill’s piano stays slightly off-center, just enough so to give it the air of mystery it begs. Two songs penned by Chico, and one for him, constitute other highlights. “Song for Chico,” written by Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, is a stone swinger, giving wide berth to alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli and trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, while the mambo-tempo “Cuban Blues” and the moody, bluesy ballad “The Journey,” which closes the program, throw a light on Chico’s sophisticated and diverse compositional acumen.
Arturo O’Farrill himself contributes only one piece of original writing to the album, “Such Love,” which he dedicates to the late Sam Furnace, the underappreciated saxophonist who worked with Chico. It spotlights Jim Seeley’s lyrical trumpet, Luis Bonilla’s brash trombone and Jimmy Delgado’s explosive timbales, but it’s O’Farrill’s chic arrangement, full of unexpected twists, that pays the highest compliment to the album’s chief inspiration.