Even if trumpeter Adam O’Farrill hadn’t made such a big splash as a twenty-year-old phenom in Rudresh Mahanthappa’s band, or if he wasn’t heir to a brilliant jazz legacy that goes back three generations to his grandfather Chico O’Farrill, he’d still be one of his era’s most in-demand players. When pianist Chris Pattishall got a gig to livescore the debut of visual artist Kambui’s new video project, Where Does the Time Go this coming Weds, Nov 15 at 7:30 at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd Street, he immediately brought in O’Farrill as a sparring partner. Which testifies to his reputation as an improviser as well as a sideman. Pattishall is no slouch as an improviser, either: this performance could school a lot of players.
O’Farrill is also a composer, with several tracks to his credit on his debut album Stranger Days, streaming at Sunnyside Records. It’s a lot of fun, and the lineup is somewhat unorthodox for a debut – two horns, bass and drums. Not to be disrespectful to young composers, but there are plenty of guys twice O’Farrill’s age who can’t write tunes as purposeful as the numbers here. Being a bigtime movie fan probably has a lot to do with the vividness of his sonic narratives.
The album title is a pun, and it’s apt, referencing both the Camus novel as well as our surreal times. The album opens with the optimistically waltzing harmonies of A & R Italian Eatery, O’Farriull and tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown bantering like a couple of garrulous oldtimers in the neighborhood pizza joint. O’Farrill’s similarly brliliant brother Zack adds sparkle and spatter against Walter Stinson’s sinuous bass.
A fluttery solo trumpet approximation of waves licking the beach opens the epic The Stranger, then the bandleader takes an allusively North African tangent as a shout to the novel’s enigmatic protagonist. From there the band shuffle, then march with a Mingus-inspired grit, the brothers in the band messing with the time and pushing their instruments’ outer edges: the fun these guys are having is contagious. Long, exploratory, unresolved solos from each horn player give way to moody minimalism from the bass and drums before the procession resumes. Does anybody get shot? No spoilers here.
Stinson’s terse solo base interchange with moody horn harmonies peppered by latin-tinged rimshots in Survival Instincts. Why She Loves, by Stinson, begins with low-key, amiable solo sax; slinky syncopation and tense close harmonies follow until the brothers in the band bust through the clouds, clearing a path for the bass to bop around.
Aligator Got the Blues rises from moody, blues-infused atmospherics to a latin slink and then a strut as the sax bobs and weaves; they take it out with argumentative New Orleans horns and wind it back somberly. Another Stinson tune, Forget Everything You’ve Learned At School follows a byzantine if ultimately triumphant path out of frustration with routine and repetition: no wonder everybody can’t wait til the school day is over!
The album’s most ambitious point is a triptych that begins with The Cows and Their Farmer Walt, inspired by the famous 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Band Concert, with the satirical, buffoonish feel of a Mostly Other People Do the Killing parody piece: everybody chews the scenery, with irresistibly amusing results. The Courtroom keeps this silly, conversational narrative going “as a judge (bass), a politician (sax), and an environmental scientist (trumpet) try to come to terms with what happened after this natural disaster, not to mention what happened to the cows and their farmer.” It concludes with the funky math of Building the Metamorphosen Bridge
The album closes with Lower Brooklyn Botanical Union, a jaunty swing shuffle and joint shout-out to Strayhorn and the brothers’ pioneering latin jazz composer grandfather. It’s impressively eclectic stuff from a guy whose ceiling seems to be pretty unlimited – and a good indication of what he might pull out of thin air at the Lincoln Center gig on Wednesday.