Even were it not acknowledged, it would have been crystal clear that the liner notes to Sensing Flight, the sophomore effort of the Brooklyn based O’Farrill Brothers Band, were written by the sextet leaders’ proud papa. And indeed Arturo O’Farrill, who also also produces the album, has something to be proud of. These are talented young musicians playing rhythmically tricky music with finesse. They explore musical ideas, while avoiding the grotesque. They are fun to listen to. In the words of the proud papa: “This is a real band with egos checked at the door seeking to create the best of all possible musical experiences, a true collaboration. There is little doubt that they all take a back seat to the great mandate: Art. Music first.”
Led by brothers Adam on trumpet and Zack on drums, the rest of the band has Livio Almeida on tenor sax, Gabe Schnider on guitar, Adan Kromelow on piano and Raviv Markovitz on bass. Of the nine songs on the album, six are by Adam O’Farrill, and one by Almeida. There is a Billy Strayhorn composition, “Upper Manhattan Medical Group,” and Carla Bley’s distinctive “Wrong Key Donkey” rounds out the set.
They open with “Drive,” which features some sweet solo-trading between trumpet and guitar, then piano and sax, a nice device that they put to good use again later with the horns in “Full Measure” and again at the end of “Sensations.” Indeed there’s a lot of that kind of thing throughout the album. “Wrong Key Donkey” is playful and witty, filled with interesting ideas you don’t often hear. “Monet” pays homage to the impressionist painter with a surprisingly impressionistic musical palate, and some nice solo work from Schnider on guitar and Markovitz on bass. It is quite subtly done and shows the band’s restraint.
“Action and Reaction” has some interesting piano work from Kromelow, but as with most tracks the whole band shines. “Mind Troubles” has Almeida working some magic on the sax, and “Broken Wings” begins with a mellow lyrical solo piano and builds to include the rest of the band, and then Adam’s trumpet takes it off in a new direction. At almost nine and a half minutes, it is the longest piece on the album.
Although there are those who question the future of jazz, with young musicians like these showing the strength of their commitment to innovation in the context of tradition as they do on this album, the future may not be as bleak as the doomsayers fear. You listen to what they do with even a lesser-known Billy Strayhorn piece, you hear they way they breathe new life into it, and you can’t help but feel optimistic for that future.