Birdland is a special venue that acts as a doorway to the original scene it served, most keenly represented by the club’s regular headliner in the 50s — a certain Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. Currently, one of the regular and recognisable headliners is Arturo O’Farrill whose Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra acts as a vivid doorway to the rhythm and sounds of Cuba.
Son of the great Chico O’Farrill, Arturo carries with him heritage and innate Latin musicality in abundance. Tonight’s set draws heavily from the now Grammy-nominated album, Cuba: The Conversation Continues. The record is an imagined continuation of the musical discourse started by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo who threw their styles (jazz and Afro-Cuban respectively) into a melting pot of complementary instincts. It summons the spirit of Havana to Manhattan. All of a sudden, the cold of the winter’s night is forgotten in a haze of bongo, conga and red-hot horns.
Chief among the brass, Jimmy Seeley is taking his new matte-finished trumpet for a walk and it sounds a treat. A notable mention to Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax who delivered a superb solo early on in the set — perhaps knowing this would be his main moment to shine he left it all out there, ringing in the air for the Birdland audience to enjoy.
Arturo is of course in complete control of proceedings. His passion for the music and its future is palpable and his introductions to stand-out charts such as New Orleans-inflected ‘Second Line Soca’ and the spicy ‘Vaca Frita’ adds an unmistakable Cuban flavour to the show. Dizzy called the genre ‘universal’ and with exponents such as these, opening the doors to the soundworld of Afro Latin Jazz has never sounded warmer.
Cuba: The Conversation Continued is out now on Motéma.