When a band takes a break during a tour and heads into the recording studio, the results can document the best qualities of a well-oiled unit. Working night after night toward a common goal, and often living in close quarters off the bandstand, the players come to understand each other’s instincts and how they can collectively elevate the music. This was clearly the case when Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days quartet took a detour from a 2017 tour to record El Maquech in Montreal.
Along with O’Farrill’s trumpet and his brother Zack’s drums, Stranger Days (named for the group’s 2016 debut release) includes tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and bassist Walter Stinson. The rapport between the horns is apparent from the album’s opening seconds; they toy with the pitch and tempo of the Mexican folk melody “Siiva Moiiva,” evoking the passion of the human voice. O’Farrill’s choice of material covers extensive ground. His arrangement of the sensuous title track scales down a melody originally performed by a large Yucatan band, with Zack’s extensive snare fills driving the mood. The two brothers engage in a spirited duet in Adam’s “Shall We? (If You Really Must Insist),” while the trumpeter plays alone in Irving Berlin’s “Get Thee Behind Me Satan.” If O’Farrill’s brassy delivery weren’t impressive enough, he concludes the latter piece with long tones that build suspense in their understatement.
His originals impress as well. “Erroneous Love” reworks Thelonious Monk’s “Eronel” into something completely different, while “Henry Ford Hospital” draws inspiration from an intense painting by Frida Kahlo. Stranger Days were only on their first tour when they recorded El Maquech, but their musical camaraderie makes them sound like veterans.
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