Part two of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares’ trumpet trifecta touched down at Eastworks’ 121 Club on Friday, April 21st, as Adam O’Farrill brought his Stranger Days Quartet to Easthampton. Sandwiched between the explosive Peter Evans (April 9) and South African great Feya Faku (April 23), the 22-year old trumpeter wowed 85 of us over the course of his 80-minute set.
This was O’Farrill’s first concert on his first tour as a bandleader. He seemed genuinely moved by the warm reception and attentive listening we provided. The band’s itinerary takes them to New Haven, Ithaca, Montreal, and concludes at the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro on April 29.
The poise and maturity of the ensemble, both on and off the bandstand, was one of the remarkable things about this group of twenty-somethings. Given the bloodlines of Adam and his older brother, Zack, perhaps the polish, grace and self-assurance we saw is not surprising. Their grandfather is the renowned Cuban-born composer and arranger, Chico O’Farrill. Their father is the superb pianist and bandleader, Arturo O’Farrill, who performed with his two sons in 2013 as part of Season Two of Jazz Shares. Despite their youth, these musicians have been on stage for years.
With material drawn equally from Stranger Days, their well-received 2016 Sunnyside release, and standards by Irving Berlin, Kenny Dorham and others, the band played with an exuberance that befitted their age, and a restraint that belied it. Tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown displayed a full, rounded tone and a classic approach. Bassist Walter Stinson, playing shareholder Mark Dunlap’s gorgeous instrument, held things together with impeccable time and inventive soloing. Drummer Zack O’Farrill provided energy and glue. Adam O’Farrill showed why he is a rising star and sought after sideman.
The trumpeter was a key figure in Rudresh Mahanthappa’s 2015 album of the year, Bird Calls, and is featured alongside Ellery Eskelin and Tyshawn Sorey in Stephan Crump’s latest group and recording, Rhombal. (Rhombal will perform in October as part of Season Six of Jazz Shares.) O’Farrill’s sound, by turns clarion and burnished, serves the music beautifully.
His unaccompanied solo on Irving Berlin’s Get Thee Behind Me Satan amply demonstrated his musicality. Most young players want to show you how fast they can play, conflating technical prowess for musical intelligence. Although mastery of the mechanics is important and can be thrilling, connecting emotionally with listeners requires skills that only develop over time. That Adam O’Farrill has those skills at such a young age is impressive. His solo kept the contour of Berlin’s composition, but with breathy asides and bent notes torn from the tune, O’Farrill imparted a poignancy that I’m sure was not present in Ginger Rogers’ original reading featured in the 1935 screwball comedy, Top Hat.
For the music to remain vibrant musicians need performance opportunities.
That is especially true for emerging artists, who can only learn so much in the classroom. I am pleased that Jazz Shares was a part of Adam O’Farrill’s inaugural six-city tour (which included a recording session of new material at McGill University.) With next generation artists like Adam and Zack O’Farrill, Walter Stinson and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, we look forward confidently to the continued vitality of this American music.