Famed pianist/composer Arturo O’Farrill has had quite the successful career over the years. He has earned multiple Grammy awards and nominations, recorded and performed with some of the most respected names in the jazz community, and in the process made quite the name for himself within that realm. Now with his latest album with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Virtual Birdland, he continues to build his reputation within the jazz community. The album, at least his eighth with the group, was released Friday, a little more than a year after the organization’s most recent album, Four Questions. It is an enjoyable presentation thanks in part to its companion booklet, which will be discussed shortly. The songs featured in the recording and the group’s performance thereof is directly connected to the album’s companion booklet. They add even more engagement and entertainment to the record’s presentation. They will be discussed a little later. The album’s sequencing puts the finishing touch to its presentation. When it is considered along with the other noted items, the whole makes Virtual Birdland one more of this year’s top new jazz and blues albums.
Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra’s latest album is a positive new addition to the group’s already extensive catalog. It is a work that will certainly appeal to the group’s fans and to jazz fans in general. This is due in no small part to the album’s companion booklet. The booklet features brief but concise explanations of each of the album’s songs. That background sets the groundwork for the album. It ensures an appreciation for each song, regardless of listeners’ familiarity with the group. Building on that groundwork, the liner notes also give some background into how the events of 2020 played into the creation of the group’s new record. There is even mention of a foundation created by the collective to aid people negatively impacted by everything that happened in 2020. That story and the background provided about the album’s songs makes for a great starting point for listening experience. From there, the songs featured in the record and the musicians’ performance thereof builds on the presentation, enhancing the experience even more.
The songs featured in Virtual Birdland stand out in part because they are original compositions crafted by members of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. That is pointed out in the already discussed liner notes. They are varied in their stylistic approaches and sounds, either. ‘Desert’ for instance lives up to its name, with a clear Middle Eastern influence. By comparison, a song, such as ‘En La Oscuridad’ (roughly translated means ‘In The Dark’) is a much more relaxed, smooth song. According to the information provided in the liner notes, O’Farrill’s father played a key part in the song’s composition while saxophonist Mario Rivera took the lead in the work. Rivera’s performance, along with that of percussionist Vince Cherico on drums, makes this work such a smooth work. Considering the overall feel and the name, one can only imagine what happens in the dark even though the liner notes do not make any hint. It clearly has to be assumed. It is sure to make for a great song for any date night.
‘Para Los Rumberos,’ on another hand is completely unlike ‘En La Oscuridad’ and the album’s other entries in its sound. The only song that even relatively comes close to this one (which is a cover of the classic Tito Puente composition) in terms of sound and style is ‘Samba for Carmen’ what with the big band style approach and sound here. A close listen to the pair however, reveals that the arrangements are unique of one another. The musical fire that the organization fuels through the performance of ‘Para Los Rumberos’ is an excellent way to end the album. From the energy in the group’s entire percussion section, to the energy exuded by the horns and saxophone, the whole comes together for such a great composition that will get any listener on the floor, feet flying in time. The energy that the group in whole is a great mirror image of what the liner notes say of rumberos: that they are people who would rather embrace the challenge of tough situations than let those situations get them down. Looking at this song and the others noted here, their variety and the orchestra’s performance of each work makes the record in whole enjoyable in themselves. When they are considered along with the background that the album’s liner notes, the whole makes the album even more engaging and entertaining. These noted items are only a portion of what makes the album a success. The songs’ sequencing rounds out its most important elements.
The sequencing of Virtual Birdland is important to note in part because it keeps the album’s pacing solid from start to end. That solid pacing comes as a result of the balance in the arrangements’ energies. From start to end, the variances between and even within songs ensures listeners’ engagement and entertainment because they keep the record changing. Songs, such as ‘Desert’ and ‘Ana Mashoof’ are full, relaxed compositions that switch things up in the bigger picture of the record. They make for break points in the album’s run. Meanwhile, songs, such as ‘Alafia,’ and ‘Nightfall’ that start in soft, relaxed form give way to more energetic presentations, keeping things interesting in their own way. On the polar opposite end of the spectrum are works, such as ‘Samba for Carmen’ and ‘Para Los Rumberos’ that are full on energy from start to finish. The placement of these varied stylistic approaches ensures that listeners get something different in each work, thus ensuring the noted engagement and entertainment. Clearly, much thought and time was put into sequencing the varied stylistic approaches. It paid off, too. When this is considered along with the songs and their performances, and their companion background information, the result of all that is that it makes this record a work another impressive offering from Aturo O’Farrill and the Aro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. It is a presentation that every jazz fan will enjoy.
Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra’s latest album, Virtual Birdland, is a presentation that will appeal widely among jazz fans. That is proven in part through its companion booklet. The booklet offers listeners a brief, but concise background on each featured song as well as a thorough background on how this latest offering came about. That collective groundwork establishes a solid starting point for the album’s presentation. The album’s featured songs are unique of one another, and the performances thereof are just as impressive, making for even more enjoyment. The songs’ sequencing puts the finishing touch to the album. That is because it ensures the album’s pacing remains stable throughout. It also works with the songs to keep listeners engaged and entertained through the variety of sounds and stylistic approaches. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Virtual Birdland. All things considered, they make this latest offering from Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra’s easily one more of this year’s top new jazz and blues albums. Virtual Birdland is available now through Zoho Music. More information on the album is available along with all of its latest news at:
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