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Arturo O'Farrill's 'Four Questions' brings together art, activism / DOWNBEAT

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Arturo O'Farrill is no stranger to complex artistic statements or critiquing systemic social problems. Given the vast-but nuanced-nature of the topics O'Farrill has explored throughout his career, the pianist, composer and bandleader frequently enlists a wealth of performers as collaborators. The approach continues with Four Questions (Zoho).

While collaboration is a hallmark of jazz, O'Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra continually work to offer an expanse of musical, conceptual and political ideas. For the title track, Dr. Cornel West, the author and activist, contributes multifaceted questions first raised by iconic social critic W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk. And across Four Questions, every aspect of partnership-from the inspiration behind the repertoire to everyone's distinctive skills-coalesces in valuable, multilayered statements. It's more than just a batch of appealing melodies.

Despite highlighting economic disenfranchisement, "A Still, Small Voice," for example, delivers a message of supporting a collective over a chosen few through a heavily-layered choral approach. Meanwhile, "Baby Jack" exudes the melodic conventions of Afro-Latin jazz, its ebb and flow of dynamic intensity and tonal approachability subtly reflecting the world's current, delicate state.