Virtual Birdland
Review by Willard Manus

Arturo O’Farrill went around the world to put together his latest album, VIRTUAL BIRDLAND. Defying the obstacles of the pandemic, he got socially-distanced musicians based in the USA, Morocco, Kuwait and Europe to work together remotely but harmoniously on this album.

O’Farrill, whose last CD, “Four Questions,” was reviewed a year ago in “Lively Arts” (and was nominated for a Grammy), plays piano and conducts The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra here, joined by a dozen guests who know and admire his music. The result is a dynamic and inspiring album, one that is a tribute to the human spirit and to the power of jazz.

VIRTUAL BIRDLAND kicks off with “Gulab Jamon,” a blending of Indian and Spanish melodies which was written by O’Farrill and delivered by his 25-piece orchestra in joyous, fiery fashion. Then Malika Zarra sings a Moroccan tune called “Pouvoir” (power, in French). Zarra’s soaring vocal is heard over drum work that suggests a North African wedding.

It goes on from there, eight more tunes featuring the likes of Paquito D’Rivera (on alto), Boom Diwan (five Mid-East percussionists), Richard Miller (guitar), Everton Isidoro and Gustavo Di Dalva (playing such exotic instruments as the cuica, pandeiro and atabaque). Musn’t forget the Kuwaiti, Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulafi, singing and playing guitar on “Ana Mashoof.”

VIRTUAL BIRDLAND finishes with a roof-raising version of Tito Puentes’ “Para Los Rumberos,” arranged by Jose Madera. It will make you get up on your feet and dance your blues away.