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Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra: Cuba: The Conversation Continues

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Talk about timing. Pianist, composer and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill was in Havana with his orchestra this past December, preparing to record this glorious two-CD continuation of jazz’s dialogue with Cuba, when President Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with the island nation.

O’Farrill assembled a binational cast of composers to contribute to the project. In the States, he chose his son Zack; Dafnis Prieto, whose lively “The Triumphant Journey” opens the album; Earl McIntyre, whose party-hearty “Second Line Soca [Brudda Singh]” plays up New Orleans’ connection to Havana and the Caribbean; and Michele Rosewoman, whose “Alabanza” blends postbop and Yoruba influences and features its composer on piano. In Cuba, he picked Alexis Bosch, who plays piano on his “Guajira Simple”; Bobby Carcassés, who powers his “Blues Guaguancó” with Yoruba-infused scatting; Michel Herrera, whose “Just One Moment” has him trading lines on alto saxophone with Arturo’s son Adam on trumpet; and Cotó, whose “El Bombón” became the trip’s irresistibly danceable anthem.

All great stuff, as is O’Farrill’s tasty “Vaca Frita,” featuring turntablist DJ Logic. But the album’s centerpiece is the leader’s four-part Afro Latin Jazz Suite, commissioned by the Apollo Theater for its 80th anniversary and to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Afro Cuban Jazz Suite, the landmark work by Arturo’s trailblazing father, Chico O’Farrill. Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is the special guest on all four movements, and overall the suite echoes Chico O’Farrill’s masterpiece and taps into the maestro’s African influences. During the final movement, “What Now?,” Mahanthappa and trumpeter Jim Seeley climb aboard an Eddie Palmieri-inspired groove and zoom toward the future. “What was a Chico-Bird dialogue,” writes executive producer Kabir Sehgal in his extensive notes, “has become an Arturo-Rudresh conversation.”

Mahanthappa is also featured on Zack O’Farrill’s “There’s a Statue of José Martí in Central Park,” which closes the album with another au courant nod to the NYC-Cuba connection via a mix of free jazz and Santiago de Cuba carnival music-the former meant to evoke the liberty the great champion of Cuban independence gave his life fighting for.

Originally Published