Great friendships are born out of a combination of many things: admiration, a sense of camaraderie, similar humor even. Sometimes one feels a common purpose with those whom one chooses as co-conspirators in the battle of life. All of these elements and more are at play in the relationship of Claudia Acuña and Arturo O'Farrill. But at the foundation of this interaction is the childlike wonder that these two have creating music together. It is as if the bandstand is some sort of sandbox in which these friends could while away the hours endlessly.
There have always been creative projects based on friendship and mutual admiration, Ella and Louis, Celia and Tito, Machito and Graciela, even George and Gracie, always laughing, always singing, always finding joy watching your friend do what he or she does best.
They loved recording “Paciencia”, because it is the simplest of songs and required tremendous amounts of restraint, the very qualities which most Latin or jazz musicians are not usually well known for. This beautiful song speaks to the need in all our lives for slowing things down, showing patience, and appreciation for little things.
“Cuando, Cuando” is well-known to all, and this is Claudia and Arturo’s response to a song they both grew up with. Based loosely on the version by the great Tito Rodriguez, this is music purely for the joy and simplicity of enjoying words, melody and rhythmic gentleness.
Take the folkloric roots of Afro-Cuban music, merge them with a modern funk approach, blend with contemporary jazz, and apply them to a song about the flexibility one must have in order to survive romance, daily life and the relentless struggle of understanding ourselves, and you get “Agua”.
“Como Dos Amantes” has those very qualities that reveal the purposes of this record. To perform music that has at its roots the simplicity that can engage the non-jazzer, but with the sophistication that engages those who remember when jazz was actually popular. When the music was not used as an elitist, divisive force.
The Venezuelan genre Joropo was the inspiration for this arrangement of “Moondance”, the Van Morrison classic. We all loved this music growing up and it represents some of the first jazz inspired music that was heard by millions. The middle section is a direct tribute to Coltrane and shows the multifaceted prowess of these masters.
“Willow Weep for Me” is a true jazz classic recorded by all the greatest performers of our time, from Frank Sinatra to Ray Charles, from Art Tatum to Diana Krall. Here it is given a very different treatment as a funkified Cha Cha with great solos from Arturo O’Farrill and Yosvany Terry.
Inside the heartbeat of every New Yorker is a love for California. They may not choose to live there, but their hearts are interwoven with those brothers and sisters from across the Americas who’ve made their home there. “California” is a tribute to the West Coast and its huge impact on the hearts, minds and artistry of all of us.
Batacumbele is one of the greatest bands in Latin American music. A folkloric based band, but with all the sophistication and attitude of an Irakere, their music is legendary from Puerto Rico to Colombia. “Jibarito” is a classic from their repertoire, and it speaks to the idea that the roots of Latin America are in the countryside, but their impact in the urban reality of modern life cannot be denied.
In the studio, as they were mixing “Dime”, in the very next room The Spanish Harlem Orchestra was recording their next CD. Oscar Hernandez is the arranger of this salsa classic, written by Ruben Blades and Willie Colon, which every Latino on the planet knows and loves.
And boy, do these two have fun! Claudia is that rarest of individuals, a singer/musician, one whose work extends beyond their vocal gifts. A true artist, she is a rare hybrid of both jazz and Latin lineage. She has the profound respect for her roots to sing with authority in any Latin genre, but the love of jazz has shaped her approach. There is no one like her. She has the voice of a Sarah but the fire of a Celia.
Claudia Acuna during the recording sessions for "In The Shoes". Photo : Hank O'Neal.
Arturo O'Farrill has a similar vision. His is an artistry based out of recognizing the common roots of both Latin and jazz, and of doing so at the highest levels. As a pianist, composer and arranger, Arturo has challenged the notion of jazz as being the exclusive domain of any one culture. He is an example that the future musician must be based on a multiplicity of skills and cultures.
All of the musicians on this recording have realized their friendships on and off the musical playground. They have forged deep, life-long alliances based on that great combination of loving your work, loving those with whom you work and in doing so, blurring the line between work and play.
This CD came out of a conversation in which Arturo and Claudia decided to do a project for the pure fun of it, not to impress the serious jazz cognoscenti, or to ingratiate themselves with “the jazz police”. They chose to record songs they enjoyed before they became “serious” jazz artists. “In These Shoes” is just such a piece. It is a fun, flirty song, which allowed Claudia to put on a persona, much like an actress does, and in doing so, have tremendous fun.
“Vida Sin Miel” is a Dafnis Prieto original, which has a quirky, dark quality and yet speaks about the simplest of truths, that “life without joy” (miel/honey) is no life. The Adam Rogers guitar solo has a Twin Peaks quality, a sense of drama that proves that the artist is always in service of the greater purpose, music first.
Finally, “La Piye” has the incredible percussionist Pedrito Martinez shining with the power of a million suns. His drumming on this track would be cause for celebration enough, but when he sings, one cannot escape the reality of his huge talent and warm personality. This track reaches to our Afro-Cuban roots, but says more about the desire to reach into the hearts of the listener and draw them in.
That’s what this record is about, drawing the listener into the world that really exists, the world that is multi-cultural, multi-lingual and truly international. Claudia and Arturo set out to record a work that reflects who they are, citizens of the planet. Americans by residence, but children of Chile, Mexico, Cuba and ultimately of Africa and Europe, it is their hope that this work will find listeners who are not necessarily into jazz (though it has plenty of swing and verve), but people whose understanding reaches beyond genres and boxes. This music should find itself equally at home on a transistor radio in Buenos Aires or a mega sound system in a loft in Soho. Here is to friendships that span across cultural, socioeconomic, international, generational, and many other divides, friendships that teach us how to groove no matter where we come from or where we find ourselves. Thanks, Claudia and Arturo, may your music create many new friendships, for yourselves but primarily amongst many others!