Composer, bandleader, and pianist Arturo O’Farrill delivers his Blue Note debut with his ten-piece Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble (drawn from his larger orchestra). Dreaming in Lions comprises two lengthy, multi-movement original suites. The title piece is inspired by Ernest Hemingway's novella The Old Man and the Sea, and is presented alongside "Despedida." Both were composed in collaboration with the Cuban Malpaso Dance Company and its artistic director, Osnel Delgado, and have been performed around the world. This music is dramatic and sweeping, filled with polyrhythms, dynamic textures, and complex harmonics.
O'Farrill's lineup includes three percussionists, brass, reeds, winds, guitar, and a drum kit. The bandleader handles piano and electric piano. This music retains a live, spontaneous quality inspired by performing with the dance company in real time.
The five-part "Despedida" suite is first. "Del Mar" offers the piano as a tolling church bell. A rumbling bassline frames the chords as a euphonium delivers the melody line while saxophones stutter in the backdrop. The trumpet adds an elegiac lyric line. The bandleader shifts gears with a post-bop-flavored son montuno, while the rhythm signals the change and the band swings like mad. "Intruso," with an electric bass, balances avant-jazz with post-bop, Afro-Latin funk, and carnival music. While "Beauty Cocoon" is a modernist bolero showcase for intricate flute, trumpet, and trombone work, it crosses rhumba and merengue with guaganco rhythms. "Ensayo Silencio" is a Latin jazz fusion jam with a strutting electric bassline, swirling, punchy, Joe Zawinul-esque keyboard layers, and buoyant tenor and brass engagement.
The Dreaming in Lions suite is composed of nine movements. It's less celebratory -- more moody and detailed in execution. The title track offers slippery, ethereal piano as bass and flute create a melodic frame to assist the horns in building drama by combining folk forms, jazz, and classical music. "Scalular" is incendiary as the percussionists battle both one another and the bopping, skittering horn section amid angular piano montunos driven by a fleet walking bassline. "The Deep" is brooding. O'Farrill plays aggressive chordal vamps on a Fender Rhodes as trumpet soars over an undercurrent of layered, harmonized horns. The guitar and soprano sax playfully engage while the euphonium guides it all from the bottom. "Struggles and Strugglets" is a smoking, angular jazz-funk track wherein electric bass, guitar, and keys move against percussion and syncopated horns. "I Wish I Was" is a tender ballad with detailed, delicate brass, saxes, and piano harmonies. Son Adam O'Farrill's trumpet solo is one of the album's most moving moments. Closer "Dreams So Gold" is a meditative, classically tinged solo piano piece performed beautifully by O'Farrill's wife, Alison Deane. Dreaming in Lions is simply stellar. Its sophistication is underscored by O'Farrill's wild originality as a composer and arranger. This impeccably rehearsed band fires on all cylinders with an instinctive dramatic flair, infusing each composition with taste and color. In sum, Dreaming in Lions stands as one O'Farrill's most adventurous, passionately performed works.