Arturo O'Farrill / Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra

Cuba: The Conversation Continues

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Cuba: The Conversation Continues was already conceived as an ambitious dream come true for bandleader Arturo O'Farrill when a synchronous event occurred in history. The night after his band had performed at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, Barack Obama announced the normalization of diplomatic relations with the island nation after more than 50 years. This double-length set was conceived as a way of furthering the musical and cultural conversation begun by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo in the 1940s. It features compositions by six American and four Cuban composers, played by 24 musicians. There are 21 producers, five videographers, and two photographers. Among the composers are the bandleader, Michele Rosewoman, Michel Herrera, Juan de la Cruz Antomarchi ("Coto"), and Dafnis Prieto. The first disc offers O'Farrill's four-movement "Afro Latin Jazz Suite," in tribute to his father's "Afro Cuban Jazz Suite" that featured soloist Charlie Parker. This one offers saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa in the premier role, and he doesn't disappoint as he moves through angular post-bop and salsa, African highlife, and progressive jazz. The third movement, "Adagio," is a lilting cha cha. Rosewoman's "Alabanza" is a gorgeous exercise in orchestral textures and rhythms (with the composer as a soloist) that inexorably connects Yoruban and Latin folk forms to post-bop articulations. On disc two, Herrera's "Just One Moment" is a grooving exercise in color and swing, while Coto's "El Bombom" is a driving, big band changüí with the man himself on tres and vocals. There are also wonderful solos from bassist Gregg August and trumpeter John Bailey. Earl McIntyre's "Second Line Soca (Brudda's Singh)," with vocalist Renee Manning, seamlessly melds Havana's drum chants and son-styled montunos with New Orleans jazz, funk, and Caribbean tropical grooves. O'Farrill has been on a creative tear over the last five years; Cuba: The Conversation Continues extends it with an inspired -- and perhaps career-defining -- album.

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