By Frank Alkyer | Published June 2023
We live in a golden age of jazz pianists. This writer has contended for years that at no other time in history have so many prolific jazz pianists traversed the planet at one time. It is truly an embarrassment of riches — in this case, the wealth comes from Arturo O’Farrill, who has long been known for his incredible ability to command a big band as a composer, arranger and leader. For proof, just check out his debut on Blue Note …dreaming in lions… or Fandango At The Wall In New York (Tiger Turn), the latter being named Best Latin Jazz Album at the 2023 Grammy Awards. Fronting his Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble, O’Farrill has carved out his place in today’s jazz universe. Fronting the ALJE, he’s a river of creativity, beauty and soul. But on Legacies — an album that tips his hat to his father, the famed Cubano jazz legend Chico O’Farrill, and other key influences — we hear a different side of the maestro as a pianist in solo and trio settings. It’s a recording of boundless ideas and energy. Let’s start with the trio work, where O’Farrill works beautifully with son Zack on drums and Liany Mateo on bass. The three cook through Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance” with surprising, angular twists and turns. On O’Farrill’s own “Blue State Blues,” you can practically hear the smiles from the trio as they rip through these blues with a sense of pure joy. There’s a touching tribute to his former employer Carla Bley, “Utviklingssang,” that rings a quiet, cool vibe and maintains an understated intensity that’s just right. The solo pieces are equally, or even more, impressive. Let’s just put this out there: Arturo O’Farrill is one of our greatest living pianists. Period. Go ahead and argue. But first, listen to him play “Darn That Dream” from the album or his father’s tune “Pure Emotion” or Thelonious Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t.” These aren’t just reworkings of old chestnuts, they are revelations that go to the heart of O’Farrill’s mind, music and art. “How did a classically trained musician with an Irish/Mexican/Cuban/German heritage and a propensity toward the avant-garde became the poster boy for Afro Latin Jazz?” O’Farrill asks in the press materials for Legacies. “Obviously, by falling in love with jazz piano. I have always been a jazz pianist first, and all that other stuff afterwards. When Don Was [the president of Blue Note Records] asked me to record this side of me, I was very grateful for the chance to return to my roots as a musician.” We’re grateful, too. This is an experience and a treat that listeners can retreat to any time they need a reliable pick-me-up.