The Wexner Center’s landmark 2017-2018 jazz season roars back into gear with the one of the most promising young lights of jazz, Adam O’Farrill, on Saturday, February 24th at 8pm (tickets available here). No one who saw Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls forgot O’Farrill’s boiling trumpet playing. I was lucky enough to talk with him by phone in advance of his return to Columbus and the Wex. Excerpts from that conversation, along with videos of his quartet, are below the jump.
A Nate Chinen rave in the New York Times said of Adam O’Farrill’s 2016 debut as a leader, “Mr. O’Farrill’s compositions cover a range of moods, from swinging pugnacity (“Lower Brooklyn Botanical Union”) to prowling elegy (“Survival Instincts”).”
The Chinen article linked above commented, “it’s a proper band album, with each member sworn to the cause.” O’Farrill brings Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, Walter Stinson on bass, and his brother (and co-leader of the O’Farrill Brothers Band) Zack O’Farrill on drums. O’Farrill spoke effusively about the musicians with him here.
O’Farrill said, “I usually spend a lot of time agonizing over the music I present and the people I call. I had a slot on a friend’s triple bill about four years ago. I quickly put together this group with my brother, Walter, and Chad. We’d never played together as a group before. I’d just met Walter recently and we’d played a lot leading up to that first show.”
“Obviously, I’ve played with my brother a lot, and I’d known Chad for a minute. Walter and Chad grew up near each other – it locked into place really quickly. We only had about 45 minutes to rehearse before that first gig. It was kind of funny, I’m usually very anal about those kind of things but that looseness was integral to the band’s sound. It just grew from there over the years.”
On the genesis of the first record, O’Farrill said, “We played the Jazz Gallery in November 2014. It was really great, and my Dad [bandleader-pianist Arturo O’Farrill, who also co-produced the album] was like, ‘Man, you guys gotta record. You have to capture magic down when it’s there.’ Walter was about to go on a five-month tour with a musical and we had a month to schedule something. We had the repertoire in place so it wasn’t the most stressful situation. We got in the studio and played one set like we were recording, then went back after for a couple little things.”
“It’s been very exciting to see the reception [Stranger Days] got. It’s a modest kind of project. Today it’s hard to stick out if you don’t have a larger message. This is very purely music we all deeply care about. I was really happy.”
We talked about the influence of other media on O’Farrill’s music. “[Putting the band together], I originally had the intention to do a more ambitious project based on Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts. Weeks away from the show, I realized I was running on no time to do that justice, but I wanted to write some new music.”
“What really inspires me a lot is film: where everything else meets. The acting is as important as the lighting and the composition of shorts. There’s no greater example of that right now for me than [Paul Thomas Anderson’s] The Phantom Thread. I’ve seen it four times and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack a lot by itself. Music’s a real character in that movie. On each side you see the music accompanying the characters and the emotions but it’s also really driving the thing. Not all movies are like that but this is a balanced statement of being. It inspires me to find that place between forefront and background in my own music.”
Elaborating, O’Farrill said, “I think unconsciously some of the dark humor of [Miss Lonelyhearts] found its way into this band’s repertoire and interplay and instigated the idea of writing music based directly on books and other things. We have a piece on the album called ‘The Stranger’ [based on the Camus novel] and I just recently wrote a piece called ‘Paul Morel’ about the character from D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. Every art form derives from another art form: so much of music derives from dance and theater. Going back to the global traditions of oral storytelling. There’s an endless pool of resources.”
O’Farrill talked about the planned setlist for his visit. “It’s going to be a pretty deep mix, actually. We have another album releasing in the beginning of June on Fabian Almazan’s label, Biophilia: El Makech. The Makech is a beetle found in certain parts of Central and South America that people attach jewels to and wear as living jewelry. We’re playing stuff off of that which includes a few tunes derived from Mexican culture: we have a song I transcribed from a recording of an indigenous tribe in Sonora, the Seri. I arranged a Yucatan folk song. We have a new piece inspired by Frida Kahlo’s painting Henry Ford Hospital. A cover of a Gabriel Garzon-Montano song. We also have enough material for a third album at this point; it’s still being worked on. A lot of music I’m writing inspired by two weeks I spent on a farm in Maine last summer. And songs from the first record.”
Talking about the full plate of his agenda, O’Farrill said, “After Columbus, we’re going to Detroit to play Trinosophes on a double bill with the great Detroit saxophonist Marcus Elliot and we’re going to do a few workshops there. Next is Milwaukee where we’re going to play Jazz Estate. Then we finish this tour in Chicago; we’re playing Constellation on a bill with the vibraphonist Joel Ross who I first played with in High School and I don’t think we’ve played at all since he moved to New York. So the first time playing in years will be in his hometown.”
Don’t miss one of the brightest comets shooting across the jazz sky in one of Columbus’ best sounding rooms.