Meet Me At The Border, Bring Your Horn

Arturo  O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra with guests recording at the Casa de la Cultura at Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, in May 2018. Courtesy Arturo O’Farrill.

There is a rich tradition of political and social activism in jazz, and in recent months it has taken on a distinct accent. Confronted by an administration that has attempted to sabotage the recently restored relations with Cuba; implemented brutal border enforcement tactics, and offered a callous response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, several Latin artists have taken it upon themselves to push back, speaking out from the stage, but also through their recorded work.
None perhaps has been longer at it or has been more outspoken and ambitious in his proposals than pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator Arturo O’Farrill.

Recorded in Tijuana, San Diego, and New York City, O’Farrill’s latest work, the two-CD set Fandango at the Wall (Resilience Music) brings together musicians representing several countries and music traditions and is a moving and powerful statement on border walls — both the physical as well as the ideological.

“The irony of the situation is that the wall actually brought us together,” says O’Farrill who was actually born in Mexico of a Mexican mother, Guadalupe Valero, and a Cuban father, the Cuban arranger, composer, and bandleader Chico O’Farrill. He was five when the family relocated to New York City, where he has been living since. “So in point of fact, through his hatred and stupidity, this president is uniting the very people that he wants to divide.”
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Miguel Zenón, Puerto Rico, And What Might Be Beyond The Next Corner.

Saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón. Photo by Jimmy Katz.

On Yo Soy La Tradición (I Am The Tradition), his first full album featuring a string quartet, Puerto Rican saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón re-imagines Puerto Rican musical and cultural traditions utilizing the tools of European classical music and jazz.
It´s an intriguing proposition — just don´t expect musical postcards from home.
Zenón is a creator and an explorer, not a nostálgico. He brings to his searches an intense, serious-minded curiosity that tends to give his work a sharp, probing edge.
It´s demanding music, deliberately constructed and surprisingly emotional, but the rewards are worth the effort.

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Trumpeter And Conga Player Jerry González, A Jazz Innovator, Has Died

Jerry González & The Fort Apache Band at Getxo Jazz in 2010. 

Trumpeter, conguero, and bandleader Jerry González died Monday morning of cardiac arrest produced by smoke inhalation suffered in a fire at his home in Madrid, Spain, the previous night, reported the Spanish newspaper El Pais. He was 69.
Of Puerto Rican descent but born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, González had moved to Spain in 2000.
He was an extraordinary musician who crossed with ease and inimitable flair between tradition and experimentation; jazz, salsa, flamenco, and back — and left his mark every time, in every style.
His enormous musical legacy includes his work with the Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorkino in the 1970s (a one-of-a-kind ensemble that produced the exceptional albums Concepts in Unity and Lo Dice Todo); his brilliant debut as a solo artist, Yo Ya Me Curé (1980); the Fort Apache Band, a high watermark in Latin Jazz (find Rumba Para Monk, The River Is Deep, or Obatalá); and his explorations in flamenco with singer Diego El Cigala, and guitarist Niño Josele (Jerry González y Los Piratas del Flamenco)
He had celebrated his 50 years in music with a series of concerts in Madrid in 2016.

Spanish film director Fernando Trueba, who featured González in Calle 54, his love letter to Latin Jazz, once called him “the last pirate of the Caribbean.”
He was a musical adventurer and innovator, but throughout his many explorations, a basic idea served him as North: know the tradition.

“I don’t care what you want to do,” he told me in an interview for The Boston Globe in 1991, “if you want to preserve and build on the classic styles, first you have to learn them well.”