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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.

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