While bandleader and pianist Arturo O'Farrill has always sought to preserve the legacy of Latin jazz, he's never been one to do so it for its own sake, but always for evolutionary purposes. The Offense of the Drum features his 18-piece Afro-Latin Jazz band -- a whopping 28 percussion instruments from all over the globe -- and a notable host of collaborators including Donald Harrison and Vijay Iyer. The program highlights the cultural sounds and prismatic influences of South America, Spain, and the Caribbean in modern jazz. "Cuarto de Colores" weds the Brazilian, Colombian and Afro-Cuban rhythms to post-bop big-band jazz. Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda, trumpeter Jonathan Powell, and O'Farrill all deliver excellent solos. "They Came" weds spoken word from Chilo Cajigas and reggaeton -- via DJ Logic's turntablism -- to modern big-band jazz. "On the Corner of Malecón and Bourbon" digs deep into the intersections of Latin music and jazz histories. The blues in NOLA's legacy are present in the trumpet, but that's only the beginning; there are stops along the way throughout the evolution of jazz -- including a momentary stop at free -- and second-line, as Spanish melody and Caribbean rhythms provide extensive harmonic colors and rhythmic accents. Iyer's "The Mad Hatter" was written for O'Farrill. Here, strident, knotty rhythmic lines cut across angular lyric melodies and layered harmonies with fantastic solos by the composer and trumpeter Seneca Black. The set's hinge piece is the title track, a suite inspired by the banning of drum circles in New York City. Stringent contrapuntal brass sections work against the djembe for an extended period before O'Farrill's piano signals detente. Chad Lefkowitz-Brown's saxophone solo, followed by the pulsing interplay of djembe and deep-toned Japanese taiko drums, begins to open the work up from the inside. Drums begin to dominate in the second section even as the brass attempts to regain control. Eventually, the two lines intersect in a wild, colorful, songlike celebration in the final segment. The closer is a reading of "Iko Iko" with Harrison. Perhaps no other tune better reflects the commingling of Afro-Latin music as it was translated to North America through the variety of textures, cadences, carnival rhythms, and melodies of the Caribbean. The staggered brass and reed sections meet and greet the drums as they march, strut, swagger, and swing. By virtue of its disciplined execution, cultural queries, and celebratory inspiration, The Offense of the Drum is only O'Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra's most ambitious moment to date.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek