Yep, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra is still here, 3+ years after leaving the womb of institutional life at a great cultural organization in Manhattan. Some said we’d never make it, but here we are, doing pretty well, too! We have our own non-profit organization and a New York concert season, perform internationally, record, provide educational programs in the public schools, commission, and maintain a library of Afro Latin Jazz music that is a unique treasure. We are grateful to our hosts for our birth home, but it is definitely better to be the master of your tidy cottage than a guest in someone else’s mansion.
This recording is a testament to our musical philosophy. We believe jazz and Latin are not separate, but rather an inextricable part of each other. Latin is not three concerts out of a season, or a chapter in the book. The same elements that define jazz are all found in our music. Swing, blues, and improvisation are also part of what we play.
Oscar Hernández is an example of someone who is relegated by some jazz writers to the Salsa world. They could not be more wrong. He has always been a venerated and amazing musician whose compositions and arrangements are hip, informed, and can rightfully be called part of the world of Afro Latin Jazz. Rumba Urbana was originally written for a small group. Here it is arranged for Big Band, and it is a smoker (and always an audience favorite)!
Commissioned by the Bronx Museum, R.D. Rice, and Symphony Space, I composed A Wise Latina to celebrate the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, our nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court appointee. It is written in three sections, the first being the presentation of the idea of justice as an abstract concept, set to Bomba rhythms). The second is the ascendancy of the Justice and the legal diatribe into which she enters. Saxophonist Ivan Renta depicts Ms. Sotomayor arguing for fairness and justice in our land. The third section is the obligatory celebration, though it is gilded with slightly dissonant chords, reminding us we have a long way to go.
Chico O’Farrill, in the words of noted Cuban historian, musician, and writer, Leonardo Acosta, may be the “greatest Afro Cuban jazz musician of all time.” His compositions and arrangements are universally regarded by musicians as masterworks. His arrangement of Almendra is our chance to show off this great musical heritage and our love of playing this kind of music. It does not get more swinging, big, bold, and brassy than this.
Pixinguinha’s Choros are considered a national treasure of the already astonishing music of Brazil. This arrangement of Um a Zero by Proveta has all the earmarks of a great jazz “chart.” I love the sections where the clarinet plays alone against the sax section with a sprinkle of piano. Paquito D’Rivera sparkles with his customary wit and elegance. He is the definitive voice of our times on the instrument, and his virtuosic ease is perfect for performing the technically demanding music of Choro, and making it look easy and masterful.
Afro Peruvian jazz is an example of why I formed this orchestra. Our love affair with the Mambo and Cuban music is important, but to explore all the riches of Latin America, one must eat more than rice and beans. Gabriel Alegria introduced me to the deep musical waters of Peru. The festejo rhythm performed in El Sur has hundreds of variants and is played with impeccable swing by Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón on the traditional percussion instruments Cajón, Cajita and Quijada. Jim Seeley’s thoughtful trumpet solo, joined with Gabriel’s beautiful composition and Michael Collins’ brilliant writing, foretells the future of Latin jazz.
I am a descendant of Irish stock and have always loved Celtic music. We performed a concert of Afro-Latin-Celtic jazz with the amazing composer, saxophonist David Bixler. She Moves Through the Fair was one of the pieces David contributed, and it is achingly beautiful. Heather Martin Bixler (David’s wife) plays violin with astonishing musicality and sweetness. It is not a stretch that this arrangement of a traditional Irish air is on our record. We believe the music we call jazz belongs to the planet and that beauty knows no borders or genres.
I wrote Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba in Cuba whilst spending time with people whose friendship and love gives me hope - hope that the politics that separate us will cease, that oppression and manipulation will end, and that the spirit of freedom takes root individually in our hearts, so that we can exercise it individually and perhaps affect the outcome of political realities. Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba begins with a nod to the great Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés. It continues on a journey through Afro Cuban jazz, flowing from a danzón, continuing with a tribute to The Chacón Sax Quartet, and culminating in a descarga that celebrates the long lasting friendship between the people of Cuba and the United States. It may not be the reality now, but the day is coming, and I, for one, am ready. Arturo O'Farrill