Four Questions
Review by Willard Manus

I almost missed this one. FOUR QUESTIONS, ARTURO O’FARRILL AND THE AFRO LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA, came in last April but was tucked away in a special place and overlooked till now.

I’m glad I re-discovered the Zoho release, because it is a powerful, moving and meaningful work, one which no American who cares about the future of this country should miss. In addition to making a provocative social statement, it also offers nearly two hours of thrilling, Latin-flavored music.

O’Farrill is a controversial jazz figure. His enemies think he shouldn’t write songs about politics, social injustice, intolerance and bigotry. His friends think the opposite, of course, and praise him for his courage, principles and originality as an artist.

FOUR QUESTIONS was four years in the making. It was inspired by the writings of W.E.B. Dubois, the great Negro historian, and his disciple, Dr. Cornell West, who expounded on Dubois’ ideas in a book called “Black Prophetic Fire.”
O’Farrill heard West speak in 2014 at Town Hall in Seattle. “That speech turned my life around and Dr. West has become a giant figure in my thinking,” he said. “His oratory has the weight of a John Coltrane solo. His rhythmic delivery has the tumbao of Mongo Santamaria. The humor with which he injects his very serious messages floats like Charlie Parker in flight and, oh, most sacred of all, when he gets deliberate, each word has the authenticity and Afrocentricity of Thelonious Monk’s right hand.”

O’Farrill’s new album focuses on four questions which were first asked by DuBois and then are repeated by West with thundering prophetic fervor: “What does integrity do in the face of adversity/oppression? What does honesty do in the face of lies/deception? What does decency do in the face of insult? How does virtue meet brute force?”

West not only delivers a fiery sermon but conducts the orchestra and plays percussion on this extraordinary musical work, which first premiered at the Apollo Theatre in 2016 and has been refined ever since. Seven other socially conscious compositions by O’Farrill are also featured on the CD, including “Baby Jack,” “Clump, Unclump” and “A Still, Small Voice.”

With this work O’Farrill proves once again that he has become an important American voice of conscience.