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Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra New York Band, Worldly Desires

Published: 2012-01-23
Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra The orchestra, founded and directed by the pianist Arturo O'Farrill, spent its first five years as a resident ensemble at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Now it's independent. Its 18-piece lineup preserves the sound of the great old Latin dance bands, a demanding repertory in itself.

But Latin jazz in New York City has always had a progressive, experimental side, fusing with bebop in the 1940s and sparking innovations through the next decades. The orchestra continues that mission, welcoming new compositions that fling wild dissonances and abstruse rhythms into the mix. It also embraces music from across the Americas, old and new, playing all of its diverse material with the same precision and fire it brings to a mambo workout.

“There is no jazz," Mr. O'Farrill declared onstage, with his usual enthusiasm. “There is no Latin. It's just Africa, New Orleans, the world, the strand that covers the Americas."

“The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra Turns 10" was a hospitable retrospective, punctuated with proclamations from the mayor's office and the City Council and plaques for the musicians. The program brought back many of the orchestra's collaborators through the years—from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, New Orleans and Brooklyn—in a kind of greatest-hits reunion that showed off the group's breadth and virtuosity.

The program reached back to the original arrangement of the Tito Rodríguez hit “Estoy Como Nunca," sung by Carlos Díaz from the Cuban a cappella group Vocal Sampling; he scatted one solo with his voice imitating a trumpet. The orchestra backed the songwriter and author Ned Sublette in a traditionalist big-band bolero. And there were crisp, slinky, danceable mambo suites by a longtime Latin jazz composer and arranger, Ray Santos, who teaches his own Latin big band at City College of New York; one was “Browsing With Bauzá," a tribute to Mario Bauzá, an architect of Latin jazz.


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