Rolling Stone’s website gives the only complete list of Grammy Award winners I can find. Once there, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to get to the listing for Best Latin Jazz Album, won this year by Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra‘s The Offense of the Drum (Motéma).
A few years back, you could have scrolled all you wanted without finding that listing at all. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) had eliminated the category from the annual awards. I wrote a piece in the Village Voice on that controversy, in which NARAS president Neil Portnow complained that, with so many awards categories, the Grammys had “become a collage.” (NARAS reinstated that award, after forceful outcry from several musicians, including O’Farrill and drummer Bobby Sanabria.)
As I wrote in about O’Farrill’s album in a recent Wall Street Journal piece:
As part of his nonprofit Afro Latin Jazz Alliance since 2007, the orchestra has developed an expansive aesthetic that plays out through commissioned pieces for concert seasons. “The world of Latin jazz has exploded,” he said recently at his Brooklyn home. “My father did what he did in his era because that was the world he knew. In my world, there’s Peru and Colombia and Ecuador and Venezuela and more—plus, of course, Cuba. For the past seven or eight years, I’ve explored these connections for all their beauty, power and range.”
Mr. O’Farrill’s CD opens with “Cuarto de Colores,” a celebration of Colombian harp composed by Edmar Castañeda, who plays that instrument with remarkable command. Among its most stirring pieces are Pablo Mayor’s “Mercado en Domingo,” based in the Colombian marching-band tradition; “Gnossienne 3 (Tientos),” for which Spanish arranger Miguel Blanco invested French composer Erik Satie’s music with the pained vocals and curled melismas of flamenco; and “The Offense of the Drum,” an ambitious O’Farrill composition incorporating Japanese taiko drums. That such range forms a coherent musical whole lends credence to his mission.
Maybe collages aren’t such a bad thing.
Photo courtesy of Afro Latin Jazz Alliance