Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill is wise beyond his years. It’s the only reasonable explanation for his second album as a leader to be so superb, or his first album, Stranger Days (which became the namesake for his current ensemble), for that matter. It’s why the 23-year-old fits in so well in bassist Stephan Crump’s group, Rhombal. Of course, he’s also wise enough not to mess with a good thing, which is why he kept the same talented group of Stranger Days— O’Farrill on trumpet, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, Walter Stinson on bass, and Adam’s brother Zack O’Farrill on drums. He’s also wise enough on his sophomore release to bring the heat with eight tunes — a mix of Mexican folk tunes, covers of Gabriel Garzon-Montano, Irving Berlin, & Efrain Salvador, and some original songs to round things out — that continues to prove exactly how brilliant O’Farrill and this group is.
O’Farrill and Lefkowitz-Brown make for a particularly great horn section, simpatico in their abstraction. There isn’t a need for “grounded” playing with these songs and the two know well how to find every bit of air here. Stinson on bass can find every corner here (and let it be said that he’s mixed particularly well on the album, his rich tone shining through giving the listener plenty opportunity to marvel in his meshing this sound together with his own abstractions) and mine it all for buried treasure all on his own. Typically the bassist is the anchor with a configuration like this, but while Stinson fulfills that role to some degree, he often is improvising a wildly as the rest of the group. Zack O’Farrill’s drumming rounds out this group, being all things to all feelings and changing like a chameleon with a clear understanding of CMYK. He and his brother have been playing for awhile together and have been sounding great for years. Their duet on “Shall We? (If You Really Must Insist)” is aptly titled like they’re fulfilling our request to see these brothers goof off ever so charmingly.
The title track is a lively take on the Mexican folk song, direct at the head but finding astounding directions from there, really opening the tune up into real contemporary jazz ish. It’s difficule for me to put a finger on why “Erroneous Love” works so well. It’s one of those free jazz compositions that plays perfectly with tension and control, finding movements of order that seem just on the fringe of chaos.”Henry Ford Hospital”, inspired by the Frida Kahlo painting, is a beast of a song. It reaches amazing heights once it all gets clicking, but it’s Walter Stinson’s bass that turns a corner midway through and snaps the backbone of this song into place in such a way that everything else surrounding it crystallizes. It’s quite superb.
With this album, like his album before him and the works he’s released with his brother as the O’Farrill Brothers and other works with his legendary family, Adam O’Farrill has been building a body of work of which this is certainly a worthy addition. The album may have been recorded on a spare day in Montreal in the middle of a tour, capturing a moment and a feeling in the midst of a quartet’s continual meshing, but it’s no mere trifle. It’s a real statement on an album, not just to be passed over in time like other readings, but one to be revisited for everything it said and for how strongly it said it.
Adam O’Farrill – trumpet
Chad Lefkowitz-Brown – tenor sax
Walter Stinson – bass
Zack O’Farrill – drums
El Maquech, the sophomore album from trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, is out now on Biophilia Records.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.