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Arturo O’Farrill / Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble: …Dreaming in Lions… (Blue Note)

A review of the pianist/composer's latest release featuring a scaled down ensemble and a Havana-based dance troupe

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Arturo O’Farrill & Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Dreaming in Lions
The cover of …Dreaming in Lions… by Arturo O’Farrill and Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Arturo O’Farrill scales down his instrumentation, although not his ambition, with the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble, a dectet including his sons, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and drummer Zack O’Farrill. For …Dreaming in Lions…, the agile group offers two multi-part suites created in collaboration with the Malpaso Dance Company, a Havana-based dance troupe with whom the pianist has performed.

The resultant music feels nearly as vibrant as that played by O’Farrill’s 18-piece Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. The five-part “Despedida,” a reflection on farewells, was inspired by a Jorge Luis Borges poem about a relationship’s end. “Del Mar,” opening with the leader’s pensive, repeating piano figure and a melody initially sounded by trombonist Rafi Malkiel, deploys a blend of interlocking lines on the way to a rambunctious piano solo, and the pulsating “Intruso” splits the difference between funk and Latin grooves with boiling percussion and cross-cutting horn lines before making way for Alejandro Aviles’ sprawling soprano sax romp. The suite is rounded out with the relaxed, flute-drenched “Beauty Cocoon”; the wah-wah-tinted “Ensayo Silencio”; and “La Llorona,” featuring an extended improvisation by bassist José Rodriguez Platiau, tugging and pulling at rhythms in tandem with three multi-percussion players.

“Dreaming in Lions,” inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea, is a nine-part suite of a different color, starting with the title piece, dominated by Travis Reuter’s flowing guitar and competing counterlines played by multiple instruments. As ever, O’Farrill paints in multi-hued colors, sometimes all at once: quick, lithe, fusion-ish lines on “How I Love,” a chiming electric piano intro on “The Deep,” steep Miles-ish funk under nervy solos by Adam O’Farrill and others on “Struggles and Strugglets,” acidic six-string textures on “Blood in the Water,” and unaccompanied piano, played by Alison Deane, venturing into contemporary classical terrain on the closer, “Dreams So Gold.”

Learn more about …Dreaming in Lions… on Amazon and Apple Music!


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Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. Sharkskin, the second album from his long-running band, Acme Jazz Garage, has aired on radio stations across the U.S.