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Cuban Testament

09 MAR 09 JOHN C. BRUENING

There's a sad irony that Heart of a Legend, Chico O'Farrill's 1999 release on Milestone, brought the Cuban-born trumpeter/composer/arranger some long-overdue recognition in Latin jazz circles. This entertaining and diverse set was released less than two years before O'Farrill's death -- too late for him to ever receive whatever full recognition he deserved in his lifetime.

Despite serving as a composer/arranger for the likes of Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker and many other luminaries, O'Farrill spent decades in relative obscurity. Legend co-producer Jorge Ulla is a Cuban screenwriter/director who enlisted O'Farrill's services in the scoring of his 1983 film, Guaguasi.

While the original film score serves as the inspiration for a few of the tracks, O'Farrill takes the music in a number of new directions -- from the spare instrumentation of "La Verde Campiña" (featuring young violinist Ilmar Gavilán), to the 18-piece big-band orchestrations of "Momentum" and "Trumpet Fantasy." In the middle of these extremes is the tenor voicing of 'Te Quiero," played by Gato Barbieri. Other guest artists -- all of them Chico fans -- include Cachao Lopez, Freddy Cole, Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Patato Valdés, and many others.

Heart of a Legend was originally intended as a companion disc to an O'Farrill documentary that Ulla was filming during the recording sessions. The documentary was planned for a 2000 release, although no such entry appears on any Ulla filmography. Nevertheless, the album stands on its own as one of O'Farrill's final statements -- the portrait of an artist as an older man, but still with a young and vibrant spirit.