Friday, February 6, 2015

Afro Latin Jazz Enlivens East Harlem

The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra amidst audible conversation
It was non-verbal communication directed by the gestures of two hands, a sign language that unleashed waves of sound most supernatural. 

Just as every instrument became animated with character and story, each note was played with intent and purpose. Seismic notes, were played under the guise of humor and while others were melodies played with tender affection.

“I cried,” said Toia Bremermann, of Argentina, after seeing the orchestra for the first time. “It was emotional, it touched my soul.”

That was essence of the music performed by the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, lead by Grammy Award-winning Arturo O’Farrill. It was a fantasia of it’s own.

The ensemble graced El Teatro at El Museo Del Barrio last Wednesday, Feb. 4th and followed with dialogue between O’Farrill and Tania Leòn, founder and artistic director of Composers Now. 

“It’s a celebration of the composer, a lot of people write these notes we listen to, music doesn’t just spring into existence,” said O’Farrill. “When people think of composers they think of old dead people, when there are a lot of young talented people alive and kicking creating music today.”

Jazz standards and ragtime of older eras were blended with the earthy sounds traditionally found in Latin and African music that commemorated the careers of jazz greats like Dizzie Gillespie and Chazo Pono. 

“Jazz and Latin came from the same place - Africa,” said O’Farrill about the style. “There’s an equal marriage of both, their legacies are interrelated and if we don’t understand the notes we don’t understand the future.”

“Guajira Simple,” “Triumphant Journey,” “Second Line Soca/Bruddah Singh” and “Vaca Frita,” were all works featured from the orchestra’s fifth album, Cuba: the conversation continued, to which other jazz legends such as Alexis Bosch, Earl McIntyre and Dafnis Prieto were contributors.

When many artists write music in abstract ways, O’Farrill says people and events are what inspire his compositions. 

Whether it was “Vaca Frita,” inspired by the Cuban dish of seasoned, carmelized beef, or “The Jazz Twins,” written about two mysterious followers of the band who he later discovered were fans, each tune was intertwined with memories and meaning. 

Arturo O'Farrill and Tania Leòn on the future of music composition
“This is not Broadway, it’s better than Broadway,” said Felipe Haveraner, a musical theater student, in reaction to the orchestra. “Amazing is not even the word for it, it was so much better than I imagined it would be.”

Eddie Crawford, of Westchester, sought out to attend after the last time he saw the composer perform with his two sons at the Town Hall in Queens, and left inspired to continue his mastery of both the piano and flute. 

“Latin and Jazz are embedded in the genes,” said Crawford. “I love it, even the dexterity in his fingers as he plays the piano.”

O’Farrill, born in Mexico, came to New York to study music at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and is an educator at Brooklyn College and the Manhattan School of Music. He’s collaborated with Wynton Marsalis and Harry Belafonte, and with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra is an artist-in-residence at the Harlem School of the Arts. In 2007 he founded the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance.

“Everything I do reflects my life in New York City,” said O’Farrill, “the sights, the sounds, the smells are irrevocably mixed up with every note I play.”

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