Adam O'Farrill's Influences In Eight Songs

On The Corner Masthead

Adam O'Farrill's Influences In Eight Songs

October 6, 2018 | by Adam O'Farrill

Adam O'Farrill

Adam O'Farrill goes deep into eight songs and artists who've greatly influenced him, listen and read below before the rising young trumpeter and grandson of Latin Jazz pioneer Chico O’Farrill makes his West Coast debut in SFJAZZ's "New Trumpet" series on October 11 with his cinematically inspired Stranger Days quartet. 

"Saints" by Craig Taborn Trio

This whole album has become one of my favorites period, with the compositions having the perfect balance of intricacy and space, executed seamlessly by the trio's understated interplay. Stranger Days had been playing “Siiva Moiiva” (the opening track on El Maquech) before I heard this album, but on this particular track, the harmonically expansive nature of Craig's solo under the more foundational approach of the bass helped clarify what I was looking for my band to achieve with the indigeneous song on our album, especially considering these are both opening tracks to their respective albums.

"stakra" by Ryuichi Sakamoto

I'm a relatively new fan of Ryuichi Sakamoto's music, but this album, Async, undoubtedly altered the way I look at music. I grew up thinking everything had to be clear and thorough composititons, but Sakamoto's music speaks to me more as a singular object, constantly being looked at from different angles. This track, “stakra”, has a constantly repeating figure that either goes through very subtle changes, or the more “atmospheric” (for lack of a better word) sounds surrounding the figure slowly move as well. I decided to write an arrangement of this for Stranger Days, because the harmony is really beautiful, and I wanted to interpret the multi-perspective aspect of this piece through hyper-rhythmic detail, with each instrument really intersecting each other on a minute level.

"Pour Maman" by Gabriel Garzón-Montano

I remember when my brother first introduced me to Gabriel Garzón-Montano's music, I was intoxicated by the clarity and simplicity of it, without dumbing down the songwriting, harmony, or production in any sense. It came off as heartfelt and intelligent. This song has such a direct melody and presence, and as a band, I didn't want to overthink our arrangement, but I did want to take a cloudier approach. This is exemplified in the way our version starts, where the entrance of Zack O’Farrill's light cymbals was coming as much from my ears as it was a visual concept, of something emerging from nothing. Then, I figured there is no way to replicate the sound of the human voice, so I thought that Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and I had to do things that were only possible with horns, and the particular textures of our instruments. The cherry on top was Walter Stinson, who recognizes the vastly different capabilities of an acoustic bass (with which he uses the bow extensively on our version) than an electric bass, which is featured on the original recording.

"Prospectors Arrive" by Jonny Greenwood

The filmmaker, Paul Thomas Anderson, has inspired me endlessly, and a large part of that has to do with his collaborations with guitarist and composer, Jonny Greenwood. Their first work together was on the film, There Will Be Blood, and this piece, “Prospectors Arrive”, occurs earlier in the film, as ruthless oilman Daniel Plainview (played the inimitable Daniel Day-Lewis) promises a small town that they will prosper as a result of his oil business, telling them that schools will be belt, and crops be raised, and so on. It's a bittersweet moment, which is so perfectly underscored by this gently sweeping, hopeful yet cautious ballad. I had transcribed this at the beginning of the year, which inspired my piece, “Breathing Behind Frames”, a suite written for Stranger Days, a musical response to living in my grandmother's apartment, months after she passed away.

"Fall" by Miles Davis

Miles Davis is an artist who has had different effects on me throughout my young career, which is perhaps reflective of his hugely varied artistic endeavors. Compared to a lot of my friends, I came around his second quintet only more recently, and “Fall” is beautiful because it finds rich depths all in the span of just 16 bars of music. This is due partially that this tune has a peculiar, yet centered sense of harmony that leaves just enough room for exploration. But what truly caught me was the way the band breaks down into different levels of individual focus, while still maintaining a full ensemble sound. I recently wrote a piece called “Hyacinth”, which takes a more thoroughly compositional approach to what “Fall” achieves in pulling as much possible from a limited amount of musical content.

"Red Emma" by Dave Douglas

This was actually the first Dave Douglas recording I ever heard. I hadn't really thought about it in a long time, but I realize that the approach we take to a folk song like “El Maquech” has a lot to do with listening to this when I was much younger. I love the loose, yet charged approach to a folkloric sound, and they demonstrate a strong sense of tradition while being very true to their experience in more free and experimental genres of music. That's exactly the balance I aimed to strike with “El Maquech”, and other songs we'll play that may be coming from a very specific place and time.

"Flores Del Desierto" by Soema Montenegro 

Soema Montenegro is a little-known artist, at least it seems so in the States. Zack showed her to me (he always knows the good, secret stuff), and I was pulled by the mix of textures and colors in the ensemble, and the way Montenegro's voice both carries it, and blends in effortlessly. One of our goals as a band is to be able to assume both foreground and background positions within our repertoire, and as a singer, I can imagine it to be easy to feel the need to be in the spotlight, but this always speaks to me as ensemble music in the best way possible.

"Biankoméko" by David Virelles

One of the most frustrating things I've seen happen in the past few years was when I saw a critic make a Facebook post about his favorite albums of the year, and he had a side category for his favorite Latin jazz albums. It was deeply insulting to see that he had to make a “special case” for the Latinos, and one of the artists he listed was David Virelles, and his album Gnosis, which does not fit neatly into any musical category. This is actually a track from one of his older albums, Mboko, and I included it because it features Cuban percussion and rhythm in a way to dispels the notion that it's “Latin jazz” - which something is very often immediately assumed to be, precisely because it has one or two of those elements. I really have a lot of respect for him, because he subverts the expectations of what Cuban music is, and really, what jazz can be.