Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble: …dreaming in lions…

Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble: …dreaming in lions…

Jeff Tamarkin on September 28, 2021

Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble: …dreaming in lions…

Arturo O’Farrill likes to think big. The 10-piece band that has recorded the pianist, composer and bandleader’s debut for the esteemed Blue Note label, is actually a smaller collective than he usually works with under the name the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. O’Farrill’s output has become increasingly ambitious in recent years, and …dreaming in lions… keeps that momentum going. Divvied into two main sections, the five-part “Despedida” and the nine-movement “Dreaming in Lions,” the music maintains a unified vibe even while the ensemble explores themes that, in their origins and intent, bear little in common. “Despedida,” described as a “meditation on farewells,” was envisioned originally as a collaboration with the Malpaso Dance Company. It’s percussion and horn-rich (Arturo’s sons, drummer Zach and trumpeter Adam, are among the participants) and sprawling melodically, a wide banquet of textures and tones giving the compositions impressive breadth and depth. Despite the truth of loss that inspired its composition, the work projects warmth and a sense of cohesion; melancholic underpinnings surface periodically, but this is in no sense a gloomy piece of music. The “Dreaming in Lions” suite, however, is the kind of thing that O’Farrill and his companies do best: He is most at home with a vast canvas, and he has allowed himself plenty to work with here. The work, inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (perhaps track titles like “Blood in the Water” and “War Bird Man” are the giveaways?), turns on a dime from sparingly simple—“Dreams So Gold,” the finale, solo piano played by Alison Deane, O’Farrill’s wife—to more complex arrangements that beg return visits. Taken in as a whole, it’s a compelling conception flawlessly executed.

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