For over 60 years, big bands have been the exception instead of the rule in jazz -- and that is very much a matter of economics. It is a lot easier to pay four, five, or six musicians than it is to pay 19 or 20 musicians. But there are still some great big bands if one knows where to find them, and acoustic pianist Arturo O'Farrill's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra has been offering excellent big-band Latin jazz since 2003. O'Farrill's outfit celebrated its seventh anniversary in 2010, which was also the year in which 40 Acres and a Burro was recorded. This fine album (which boasts guest Paquito d'Rivera on clarinet) is a perfect example of why O'Farrill calls his big band the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra instead of the Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra; O'Farrill favors a pan-Latin approach, demonstrating that Afro-Cuban music isn't the only type of Latin music that can have a positive effect on acoustic jazz. Certainly, Afro-Cuban rhythms are an important part of the equation; the Afro-Cuban influence serves the orchestra well on material ranging from O'Farrill's "Ruminaciónes Sobre Cuba" (Ruminations About Cuba) to the Abelardo Valdés standard "Almendra" to Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia." But O'Farrill ventures into Brazilian jazz territory on interpretations of Pixinguinha's "Um a Zero" and Hermeto Pascoal's "Bebê," and his big band combines jazz with Argentinian tango on Astor Piazzolla's "Tanguango." But the biggest surprise of all comes when the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra puts a somewhat bolero-ish spin on the traditional Irish-Celtic standard "She Moves Through the Fair"; it's an unlikely choice for a jazz band, but this arrangement successfully unites post-bop, Celtic, and Latin elements with absorbing results. In a perfect world, it wouldn't be difficult for jazz musicians to keep a big band together. But some big bands will excel despite the difficulty, which is exactly what O'Farrill's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra does on 40 Acres and a Burro.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson