The Arty Semite

Latin Rhythms for Tired Feet

By Matthew Kassel

On Friday afternoon I walked from my home in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn to 34th Street in Manhattan. From there I caught a train uptown to Symphony Space to see Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, with assorted guests, blend Latin rhythms with Jewish melodies.

John Abbott

My feet ached when I got to the venue and I probably should have taken a cab or a bus. (Subway service into Manhattan was suspended in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.) But it felt extremely good to plop down into a chair for roughly two hours and feel the vibrant pulse of Latin music radiate from the stage before me.

Called “Falafel, Freilach and Frijoles: From Mambo to Borscht,” the show drew inspiration from the Latin dance bands of Tito Puente, Machito Grillo and others that toured the resorts of the Borsch Belt in the middle of the 20th Century. It also gave a nod to Irving Fields’s kitschy 1959 release, “Bagels and Bongos,” which served as a kind of precedent.

The 18-piece orchestra opened with “Holiday Mambo,” which uses the melody of “Hava Nagila.” It was recorded by Machito and his Afro-Cuban Orchestra more than 50 years ago and arranged by the late Cuban composer Chico O’Farrill, father of Arturo.

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