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From the Editor: The following review was originally published by Latin Jazz Network (www.latinjazznet.com) in November 2011. Over the years, I covered the Gonzalez brothers extensively. I’m updating and publishing the piece as a tribute to the Gonzalez brothers, whose contributions Latin music and jazz are immeasurable.
Pianist and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, and guest conductor Miguel Blanco paid tribute to Jerry and Andy Gonzalez at Peter Norton Symphony Space on New York’s Upper West Side.
The event was billed as “Andy and Jerry’s: A Tribute to the Gonzalez Brothers,” which might confuse some. It’s a metaphor for the Jerry and Andy’s basement apartment in the Bronx, a watering hole for veteran and second-generation musicians who participated in historic listening and jam sessions that sowed the seeds for the groups: Grupo Folklorico Nuevayorquiño Conjunto Libre, the Fort Apache Band.
Unbeknownst to most, O’Farrill and the Gonzalez brothers have a history. “When I began to play, I rejected my father’s (Chico O’ Farrill’s) inherited music and culture,” said O’ Farrill in a past interview. “At the time, I was making my name around Manhattan’s downtown loft scene, but a magical thing happened when my father got elderly; I heard our music as if it was new to me.” Andy was instrumental in convincing O’Farrill it was OK to embrace his culture and play clave-inspired rhythms.
The first half paid tribute to The Fort Apache Band, unquestionably one of the most influential groups of its kind. “They set the standard,” said master drummer and educator Bobby Sanabria. “They demonstrated the possibilities of what you can do if you have that perfect synergy of good folkloric rhythm and the knowledge of jazz, harmony, improvisation, and arranging technique. They were the best. That is their legacy.”
O’Farrill and the Orchestra performed selections from the Fort Apache repertoire, including Pedro Flores’s Obsesion, Thelonious Monk’s Let’s Call This, pianist Larry Willis’s Nightfall, and Isabel the Liberator, among others. Also, O’Farrill premiered several compositions, including Fanny and Oscar (for Jerry and Andy’s parents) and a concerto dedicated to the Fort Apache Band. Miguel Blanco, who collaborated with Jerry on the recording Music for Big Band (EmArcy, 2007), contributed the compositions AlmaVacia and Gnossienne 3, featuring the vocalist Antonio Lizana.
The second half featured the music of Conjunto Libre, whose robust trombone sound and progressive edge transcended Latin (dance) music and jazz. Also, it was a “finishing school” for musicians who passed through and eventually became leaders in their own right. The vocalists Quique Gonzalez and Jorge Maldonado and the flutist Dave Valentin joined the orchestra for a medley of Libre flag-wavers, including Alabanciosa, Que Humanidad, and Freddie Hubbard’s Little Sunflower among others. Libre’s powerful, uplifting trombone sound, dynamic rhythm, and high energy ignited the room.
Jerry was front and center throughout the presentation, alternating between the trumpet, flugelhorn, and five congas. Andy, who suffers from health problems related to diabetes, joined the orchestra for the composition Vieques. Though his time on the stage was short, he demonstrated why many consider him one of the generation’s most respected and recorded bassists.
The tribute could not have happened at a more appropriate time. Earlier this year, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences caused a firestorm in the Latino community when it abruptly eliminated the Latin jazz category. The tribute to the Gonzalez brothers was a testament to the significance of the genre. Also, it gives credit to Jerry and Andy, whose music symbolizes dedication, passion, risk, artistic integrity, and respect for tradition and innovation.
The memorable evening closed with a rousing interpretation of Tito Puente’s Para Los Rumberos. Lastly, uplifting words from Arturo O’Farrill left the audience with, “This music does not die. It lives in our hearts, and you can take it with you in your soul.”
© 2020 Tomas Pena
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