by Willard Manus
missed this one. FOUR QUESTIONS, ARTURO OFARRILL AND THE AFRO LATIN
JAZZ ORCHESTRA, came in last April but was tucked away in a special place
and overlooked till now.
Im 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
OFarrill is a controversial jazz figure. His enemies think he shouldnt
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
OFarrill 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 Monks
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 OFarrill are also featured on
the CD, including Baby Jack, Clump, Unclump and
A Still, Small Voice.
With this work OFarrill proves once again that he has become an
important American voice of conscience.