Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Arturo O’Farrill Takes a Stand with His Band

Yesterday afternoon at Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the question was how well the Arturo O’Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra would hold up in daylight. The big band’s Sunday night residency at Birdland is legendary, but musicians are nocturnal creatures, and major problems with the sound here delayed the summer series’ opening concert by over an hour last week. As it turned out, the band played like it was midnight in Manhattan. Getting the sound right for a seventeen-piece monstrosity like these guys is hard work, and ironically, the only member who wasn’t always audible was O’Farrill himself, maybe because he was playing electric piano this time out: he’s a hard hitter, a tremendously interesting player, and other than on a couple of mysterioso intros, it was hard to hear him, especially when the band was cooking.

O’Farrill is also a very bright guy. Between songs, he mused out loud about how lucky he was to grow up the son of the great composer and arranger Chico O’Farrill. Introducing a 1972 triptych written by his father for the Clark Terry Big Band, who premiered it at Montreux before Dizzy Gillespie got his hands on it, he marveled at how “impressive” he thought it was at the time, as a child – and how impressive it still is. Shifting from a swaying, catchy, minor-key proto-lowrider groove, to a lushly intense, tightly clustering, bluesy anthem, to slinky clave with dizzying counterpoint between the horns and then back to a variation on the opening theme, it’s a showstopper, and the whole band reveled in it, especially the trumpets. O’Farrill’s vocal mic was fading in and out, so it was hard to keep track of who was playing what, even though he took care to introduce pretty much everybody who took a solo. To his credit, the best song of the afternoon was his own, a shout-out to Sonia Sotomayor – one of the few voices of reason on the Supreme Court – titled A Wise Latina. Shifting from brightly incisive, pulsingly optimistic brass charts to a more somber yet equally majestic theme that took on a tricky polyrhythic edge as it picked up steam, it was the most modern piece on the bill. The band showcased their excellent conguero and bongo player on an unexpectedly moody, even skeletal version of Caravan; after a couple of more traditional salsa jazz vamps, they closed in a blaze of brass fury with an irresistibly swinging version of Obsesion. O’Farrill and the orchestra’s next NYC gig is on July 21 at 9:30 at Prospect Park Bandshell, and it’s free.

The bandleader saved his most important message for the end of the show. As he explained briefly but eloquently, this Sunday starting at noon along Central Park North, there’s a protest against the New York Police Department’s increasingly embattled stop-and-frisk tactics. The controversial and blatantly racist program – whose targets are 90% young black and latino men – is as unpopular within the NYPD as it is throughout the neighborhoods whose residents are subjected to it (and then virtually always released afterward: fewer than ten percent of stop-and-frisks result in arrests, and even in those cases hardly ever anything more menacing than weed possession). However, the policy gives cops on duty an easy way to reach the illegal quotas of arrests forced on them by police brass and implicitly endorsed by the Bloomberg adminstration. The more citizens who show up to speak out and represent against this reprehensible program – and many of the protestors will be cops themselves – the more the corporate media will take notice, the more elected officials will do the same, and the closer we’ll get to abolishing it forever.

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June 15, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Fernando Otero – Vital

Album title: understatement of the month. Argentinian composer/pianist Fernando Otero gets around: he frequently plays with Arturo O’Farrill’s latin jazz orchestra, has collaborated with Dave Grusin and Dave Valentin and was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet for a Carnegie Hall premiere. Vital, his latest album is a darkly austere collection of miniatures for strings and piano, spanning the worlds of neo-Romantic, cinematic soundscapes and jazz. Many of these pieces are absolutely haunting, even macabre: this stuff packs an emotional wallop. It may be only February, but this is a good bet to show up on a lot of “best of” lists at the end of the year.

The album starts out with three pieces for violin and piano: a creepy noir waltz with piano and gracefully pensive Nick Danielson violin that segues into a thoughtful conversation between the two instruments, building with considerable apprehension. Globalizacion takes the form of a rapidfire, shuffling chase sequence – is it us chasing Jeffrey Sachs and his band of robber barons, or are we on the run from them? Siderate starts out as an uneasy Satie-esque tone poem with Hector del Curto’s bandoneon out front, Luis Nacht’s tenor sax rising to a blaring, impatient crescendo before the whole thing winds down with macabre-tinged piano.

Violin takes centerstage on the warmly Romantic La Abundancia, something akin to Jenny Scheinman meets Beethoven. The following track reverts to uneasy mode, a brief warped boogie segueing into what’s billed here as a dance but is more of a chase scene. On Reforma Mental, tinkling noir piano leads into a matter-of-factly ominous tradeoff between bandoneon and strings; the aptly titled, six-minute La Casa Vacia, for piano and violin is raw and woundedly evocative. The album winds up with the atmospheric, nocturnal Noche Iluminada, lit up with long passages for bandoneon and violin and the suspensefully cinematic Fin de Revision with its “what’s up” piano theme that quickly gives way to darkness again. The album’s just out on World Village Music.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Music NY 2009 – The Top Shows or At Least a Few of Them

As with last year, the arduous task of keeping track of who’s playing where has become a debacle since Time Out NY’s music section is a one-person operation – and to be fair to Time Out, some of the acts playing outdoors somewhere in the five boroughs on the 21st may not have alerted the magazine. For lack of manpower (why don’t the organizers do it themselves? Is Time Out’s sponsorship money really THAT crucial, especially considering the puny amount of resources they contribute?), approximately 90% of the acts playing Make Music NY are NOT listed on Time Out’s master calendar (although if you search venue by venue, you’ll find hundreds more). So if you’re wondering if your favorite band’s doing anything that day, you ought to check their site or their myspace. On the basis of a look through what limited information Time Out actually has as well as some random sleuthing of our own, here’s a guide to some of the day’s most enticing shows, at least as many as we could find:

 

10 AM (yawn): How do you reassure Manhattan yuppies that they’ll be safe from the terrifying phenomenon known as punk music? Exile all the punk bands to Governors Island, where the festivities are supposed to start around ten in the morning (those must be all the Minor Threat types who don’t drink or get high) and ending at 5 PM sharp. The free ferry leaves on the half-hour from the slip at 11 South St., early arrival highly advised. Note that security will be fierce, and alcohol will be confiscated. Acts include Reagan Youth, the Blame, Blanks 77, countless others. On one level, it makes sense to separate by style i.e. the skate punk stage, ska-punk stage, hardcore stage, etc, but why separate all the female-fronted bands?

 

11:30 AM: dark, Siouxsie-esque rockers Her Vanished Grace at 187 Sackett St. between Hicks and Henry, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

 

Noon: Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra Outside Symphony Space, 95th and Broadway

 

Half past noon: captivatingly atmospheric chanteuse Lulla at 33rd St and Newtown Ave., Astoria, Queens.

 

1 PM: Sami Abu Shumays of Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat has organized a Umm Kulthum singalong to take place in front of Rashid Sales in Brooklyn (155 Court Street, Brooklyn, corner of Pacific, 2/4 to Borough Hall or F to Bergen) starting at 1PM, open to all musicians, singers, and anyone who knows and loves the music of Umm Kulthum (the iconic Arab chanteuse and courageous activist) and can sing or play along! It will be somewhat informal, in the sense there’s no set list, no curfew. You can count on classics that everybody throughout the Middle East knows like Ghannili Shwayya, Alf Leyla, and Ana Fintizarek.

 

1 PM: ferocious, gypsy-inflected, fun rock/ska/punk en Espanol band Escarioka at Think Coffee, Bleecker and Bowery

 

2 PM: haunting, wrenchingly soulful noir rock trio the French Exit at Goodbye Blue Monday

 

2 PM: the hilarious, inspiring, carnivalesque and absolutely fearless noir songwriter/keyboardist/showman Tom Warnick & World’s Fair at Athens Square Park, 29th St and 30th Ave., Astoria, Queens

 

3 PM  a jazz showcase in tribute to the late Ghanaian percussionist Kofi Ghanaba (one of the first African-born musicians to find popularity in American jazz circles), starting with with Kwaku Martin Obeng, then at 4 PM Obo Addy and piano vet Randy Weston & African Rhythms and others at Dominick and Hudson Streets outside the Jazz Gallery.

 

Starting 3ish at Rose Bar in Williamsburg Mama Digdown’s Brass Band and then oldschool soul harmony sirens the Sweet Divines at around 5:30 or 6

 

3 PM New York’s original Balkan brass punks, Hungry March Band at the playground at Spring and Mulberry

 

3 PM Num & Nu Afrika play jazzy reggae at DRastadub Studio, 58 West 127th St, Harlem

 

3 PM sprawling oldtimey blues/country/roots juggernaut the Woes outside Spikehill

 

4 PM dark indie rock siren Randi Russo at Passout Records on Grand between Bedford and Berry in Williamsburg. If you’re planning on seeing the French Exit you should see her and vice versa.

 

4 PM the fascinating and hypnotic Electric Junkyard Gamelan in the community garden on the north side of Houston between B and C. They’re also at South St. Seaport on 6/22 and 6/29 at 3.  

 

4 PM the fiery, fun, jangly Any Day Parade – oldschool country meets paisley underground –  at Think Coffee, Bleecker at Bowery

 

5 PM Meta & the Cornerstones playing oldschool roots reggae with a Senegalese flavor at Trader Joe’s Wine Shop, 138 E 14th St, between Third Ave and Irving Pl. – be aware that heavy bus traffic including the odious M9 means the alarms that shriek as the doors open may drown out the music.

 

5 PM at the Old Stone House in Park Slope Bob Goldberg and the Accordion Forest premiering a new work by the Famous Accordion Orchestra.

 

5:30 PM the reliably surprising, edgy accordionist/chanteuse Cassis & the Sympathies outside Tavern on the Green, Central Park West and W 67th St,

 

6 PM smartly lyrical, blue-collar songwriter Al Lee Wyer at the park at First Ave and E 42nd St,

 

6 PM latin jazz flutist Carlos Jimenez and his Quartet at La Perla Garden, 78 W 105th St,

 

6:30 PM funk band the Pimps of Joytime at Washington Square Park

 

7:30 PM cabaret-pop chanteuse Jeanne Marie Boes outside Tavern on the Green Central Park West and W 67th St.

 

8:15 PM Gogol Bordello gypsy punk soundalikes Panonian Wave at 33rd St and Newtown Ave., Astoria, Queens

June 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment