In the band's liner notes, they write: “This album is dedicated to the youth, families and communities of the South Bronx that casita Maria serves. These songs, that reflect the spirit of music, are a seed planted in the imaginations of young people... it is time to soar.” Indeed, this music will make you soar.
The band is comprised of the brilliant pianist and keyboardist Arturo O’Farrill, who also serves as creative an artistic director. With him is Juanma Trujillo on electric and acoustic guitars, Mezzo-Soprano Kayla Faccilongo on vocals, Baba Israel with rap and spoken word, Leo Traversa on base, Leonor Falcón on violin and viola, the brilliant Annette Aguilar on percussion, Juan Carlos Polo on drums, and Clark Gayton on trombone. Artists, one and all, who never disappoint.
The album opens with the rousing and rapturous El Festejo (in English, the Celebration). Now this is how to kick off an album. Composed by Juanma Trijillo, O’Farrill cranks it up with a hot organ and the rhythm section catches fire right away. The joyous vocals are captivating.
The band describes themselves as deeply rooted in the Bronx. The members come from different musical styles, even different age groups, and different “thought patterns that coalesce into a collective beehive mindset. The differences define unity. The Jazz ensemble brings awareness of the history of Jazz in the borough through an aspirational reality of collectivity and creativity. The compositions are based on oral histories of Bronx heroes and citizens collected during the pandemic.”
Aspirational it may be but this music is inspirational, as well. As a white boy raised in South Florida, Latin music has always been dear to me. There was no other music that made me as happy, even joyful, as the music of my Latino brothers and sisters. Love & Resilience Resounds with that spirit, energy, and hope.
Kayla Faccilongo opens the second track, Ain’t I A Woman? by Leonor Falcón and Juanma Trujillo. Kayla herself wrote the opening Canto. She is amazing. The lyrics are stirring and her delivery is rapturous. The rhythm section is phenomenal and Leonor Falcón’s viola and Trujillo’s guitar make the whole song sound like an early King Crimson outing. Astonishing.
Nuyoriptian Part One continues with the Falcón strings and O’Farrill’s gorgeous piano. Trujillo and Kayla join in and the Juan Carlos Polo original is in full force. The piece is slow and measured and gets punctuated by the Clark Gayton trombone. All the while, Annette Aquilar and Juan Carlos Polo anchor the percussion tightly.
It jumps up with Parima by Leonor Falcón with fierce and flawless rap by Baba Israel. Baba is right on with his lyrics and the politics behind them. O’Farrill turns in some of his best Jazz piano on the album as Annette and Juan Carlos work the percussion alongside the trombone and violin. It is rousing and inspirational and meaningful.
Okay. I want to move to the Bronx.
Nuyoriptian Part Two: Two Weeks in ’71 is by Juanma with rap lyrics by Baba. I couldn’t get enough of this. Kayla’s background vocals are subdued and wonderful as Baba pulsates the theme of “everywhere you went, there was music.” O’Farrill’s Fender Rhodes is tight as Baba intones “the continuum of Mozart and Tito Puente.” Magic.
Then comes Juanita’s Hope by O’Farrill and Polo with the freestyle rap from Baba Israel. Everyone contributes splendidly and the song brings back the Latin rhythms and sensibilities in full force. Good God, ya’ll.
Clark Gayton’s Carnival is a joyous and bright passage that leaves nothing but a smile behind. Again, all of the contributions are meaningful and wonderful. Juanma’s guitar and Arturo’s piano leads are fantastic. Keep an ear out for Kayla’s backing vocals with the trombone and strings. Bouncy and beautiful with a cha-cha-cha ending.
Nuyoriptian Part Three: En Foco (In Focus) by Arturo O’Farrill almost defies description with the flux of times and keys and styles. Juanma nails a spotless guitar that transitions to Leonor’s violin then to Clark’s trombone and Kayla’s majestic vocals before returning to Arturo’s keyboards and then all around again. I love this song.
Bassist Leo Traversa offers his original Pasos for his first compositional appearance on the album and this was worth the wait. Hot trombone passages, warm violin, gorgeous keys, and amazing percussion mark this piece. But then, that could be said of the whole album.
Traversa continues with Song for Elena, lyrics by Kayla Faccilongo. It is a ballad, if not lullaby, with lovely bass lines and touching Fender Rhodes before being joined by Kayla’s vocals. That’s the opening half. The bouncing bass and Latin piano take over for the second half as Leonor’s strings and Clark’s trombone punch it up. Annette and Juan Carlos bring it all together beautifully.
Leo’s not done as he also contributes Bertha’s Beat. The percussion leads it off and Baba adds his tribute to musicians and those in the music community, even those who collect records. The Bertha referred to is Bertha Hope who was so collaborative with Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, and others. Truly an homage to the great Jazz masters of the past.
Annette Aquilar’s Wizzard’s Move closes this momentous album. The rhythmic and percussive tune is further brought to life by Baba Israel’s vision of life in the South Bronx. Everyone is afire with this one. It is funky, soulful, tight as a drum, and oh-so-much-fun.
And this is how to end an album.
Love & Resilience is not only an extraordinary album of community and unity but it really is also about love and resilience. It’s about finding the light of hope in the darkness. This is an album to cherish.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl