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  • Jonathan Widran

THE SANTIAGO BIG BAND /THE AFRO LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA, Santiago Brooklyn Santiago

What started out as a conversation between two top Latin pianists about a fresh way to collaborate evolved not only into a high-octane battle of the bands blowout, but also an epic multi-cultural touchstone released under an historic partnership between ZOHO Music (which pianist Arturo O’Farrill calls “arguably the most important American Latin Jazz label”) and Cuba’s influential EGREM label – the first merger of its kind in a sociopolitical world averse to such things.

In his insightful liner notes to Santiago Brooklyn Santiago, a collection that fuses alternately sultry and boisterous pieces, tastefully and dynamically arranged by the Cuban based Santiago Big Band (led by Marcos A. Fernandez) and the NYC based Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, O’Farrill comments, “The musicians all donated their time to this incredible act of cooperation between two supposedly ‘enemy’ countries, and once again the dignity of the music and the grace of generosity showed that love is bigger than politics and pettiness.”


Opening with an improvisational, percussive “Piano Prelude” written by the two pianists, a full immersion into the 12 tracks yields a sense of spirited yet meaningful, tempo shifting conversations between the ensembles. On the Fernandez/Cuban side, the feisty and whimsical, brass-fired and “Alemandra” (featuring Jasper Dutz’ otherworldly clarinet solo) serves as an enticing entry point. On the O’Farrill/NYC side, the sly, plucky and fast rolling “Asia Minor” serves as a solid opener for the artful shenanigans to come.

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