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For the past ten days as I toiled away at the computer keyboard in my small office at home, the CD player has stayed warm, concentrating on just one disc, the utterly fabulous new album by Chico O'Farrill. "Heart of a Legend" (Milestone) is an all-star presentation of great music, both jazz and Latin, by one of the greatest composers/arrangers of this century.
It's one of the sad facts of life that arrangers and/or composers receive little public recognition. If you stood at the apex of the world, better known as Times Square in New York City, and asked every person who walked by (assuming you could get many of them to stop and talk to you) to identify Chico O'Farrill, you'd get few, if any, correct responses.
If by some flight of fancy "Heart of a Legend" should gain airplay on the home of jazz these days, college radio stations and a handful of public radio outlets in the larger cities, then at least the intelligentsia might come to be acquainted with O'Farrill. And it's about time.
"Heart of a Legend" is making my list of the best albums of 1999. In fact, I suspect that it will rank right up there in the low-oxygen regions of the absolute top. In a winning production, with excellent liner notes by Pulitzer Prize novelist Oscar Hijuelos and additional comments by music writers Enrique Fernandez and Nat Chediak, this is an important release. It pays proper homage to O'Farrill, even offering opportunities to hear the great man's son Arturo at the piano and as leader of a dynamic collection of stellar talents.
The list of guest performers is almost staggering, led by Gato Barbieri, the great singer Freddy Cole, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Paquito Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, and Carlos "Patato" Valdes. Barbieri, not heard enough in a long time, contributes to a wonderful "Chico's Cha Cha Cha." The marvelous Paquito Rivera appears on three tracks.
Besides a generous selection of Latin jazz, including a dazzling but too brief arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca," the album includes some straightforward big band jazz.
Played with the gusto and talent that abounds in Chico O'Farrill's orchestra, these arrangements are simply as good as it gets for the big band genre.
My advice is simple, hike down to the nearest record store (or order from an online music service) and make a copy of "Heart of a Legend" part of your collection. One of the song titles in the album describes the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Orchestra: "Pure Emotion." It's 60 minutes and 53 seconds of magic.
The title of David Ornette Cherry is "The End of a Century" (Tonga Records). I would call it jazz, but Cherry isn't sure about how it should be classified.
"This record could be called a world music record," he said. "But it's hard to pin down what world music is, as some definitions of world music are non-inclusive. Let's just say that I'm continuing in the tradition of my dad. He called his music multi-kulti, so this is a multi-kulti record."
Cherry is the son of the late trumpet talent Don Cherry, who for years collaborated with Ornette Coleman, who brought a new and startling sound to the world of jazz.
Cherry, who plays keyboards, is a chip off the old block in that he composes music that is challenging, yet not to be ignored. The album contains fascinating compositions that should attract listeners across a wide range of interests.
Reviewers have liked this one very much. The Los Angeles Times awarded it three stars.
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I like JAZZ, real jazz, the kind of music that seldom gets played on these insufferable smooth jazz stations.
That said, let's approach a new smooth jazz album called "Grand Tour Alignment" (Chartmaker Records). The band responsible for this dry-as-dust collection is Solar Wind featuring Sean Mason.
That's the full title of the group: Solar Wind featuring Sean Mason. Mason, who plays the bass, works alongside guitarist Eric Robson. There are a bunch of guest artists involved, including Eric Marenthal (who works in the fields of smooth jazz on a regular basis), and two former members of the Chick Corea Electrik Band, guitarist Frank Gambale and drummer Gary Novak.
There's nothing here that's terribly offensive, but neither is there anything to be found that might be legitimately called jazz. That's the problem with smooth jazz. It's such a watered-down version of the good stuff.
While I'm still in a bad mood, let me move on to the new release from Chris Whiteley, "Blues Party" (Borealis Records). This CD from a Canadian company features veteran Whitely on a collection of blues.
Although I'm not familiar with him, Whiteley apparently is a big deal in Canada, having been nominated for five Juno awards (that's the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys).
While not awful, "Blues Party" isn't all that exciting either. It's competent, adequate, but not something I'd be waiting outside a record store to buy.
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