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Chico O’Farrill: Heart of a Legend

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This is a fitting title. The 78-year-old O’Farrill is indeed a legend in Latin jazz and his composing and arranging bountifully exemplify the emotional quality known as heart. Of course, it helps to have a big band tuned to his intentions. The playing here is as magnificent as the writing. (The band plays every Sunday night at Birdland.)

O’Farrill’s music projects his comprehensive knowledge of Cuban, jazz, and symphonic idioms. He writes in a clear-cut, concise manner-no flab, no meandering, but also no cheating on the orchestration. The opening “Guaguasi,” the title track to a Cuban film, is a bright mambo with Mauricio Smith’s superb flute dancing on top. “Sing Your Blues Away,” in a Basie vein, features singer Freddie Cole. Other guests appear throughout the album: for example, alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and violinist Ilma Gavilan on the lovely “La Verde Campina,” tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri on “Te Quiero,” and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval on “The Journey.” Chico’s son Arturo plays a couple of unaccompanied piano pieces on the album.

The brass section and the percussion section are to be commended for their interpretation and blend. The sensual, romantic spark of these performances is cinematic. Brassy tracks such as “Momentum,” the Jim Seeley-led “Trumpet Fantasy (For Wynton),” and the Chano Pozo, Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Fuller anthem “Manteca” convey brilliance and excitement throughout.

After a career that includes leadership of his own band in Cuba in the ’40s and scores written for the Kenton, Goodman, Machito, and Gillespie bands, among others, O’Farrill’s artistic muse and craftsmanship remain top-notch.