To forge an orchestra of eighteen soloists and set them to work on all of Afro-Latin Jazz composition is to have an embarrassment of riches. This is the premise of Arturo O’Farrill‘s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, and O’Farrill’s work seems to be cut out for him: it is mainly a question of pointing in the right direction.

Dia de los Muertos: A Latin Jazz Halloween, the show put together in honor of its namesake holiday, was a clear example of the unique and difficult ambitions of this orchestra. Accompanied by Calpulli Danza Mexicana, a talented group of traditional Mexican dancers, the orchestra made their way through an auspicious set list, primarily featuring music written by Arturo O’Farril himself or his father, Chico O’Farrill.

Chico O’Farrill’s Variations on a Well-Known Theme opened the night with a knowing glance at what was to come. It involved extensive use of the dancers, who had several costume changes and dance routines, each one complimenting the music it accompanied with dances that were simple but a pleasure to watch. The piece itself was both comfortable and exciting — the perfect mix for the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. The rhythm section was rich with Latin influence, while the brass filled the air with a more classic American sound.

Almost each number contained one or more striking solos by various members of the orchestra as well as talented guest musicians. Edy Martinez, a pianist, and Michael Webster were both given reign over the orchestra at various points during the night to some moderate success. Webster’s pieces were slightly tamer in their incorporation of Afro-Latin influence, while Martinez’s orchestrations were darker and subtler.

However, guest musician Michele Ramo truly pushed the show to its peak. He played the fretless guitar, an unusual modification usually reserved for the bass, with such fluidity, passion and technical skill, it made frets seem purely elective. Offstage, the Calpulli crew broke into dance, their quiet spontaneity nigh invisible to the audience and solely for the enjoyment of each other.

The show came full circle with the premiere of the Day of the Dead Suite, composed by Arturo O’Farrill. The band went offstage briefly to get suited in masks, wigs and other spooky gear, before beginning the final work. One of the more interesting pieces of the night, the suite maintained an eye towards dynamics and creative interpretations of the themes of the holiday. The dancers and trumpet players danced through the aisles, eliciting audience participation for a last hurrah. A few of the more adventurous members of the crowd ventured onstage to imitate some simple dance moves performed by the enigmatic Danza Mexicana.

The Orchestra used this to top off their night of fun, digestible works of Afro-Latin Jazz. O’Farrill deftly brought his band out into the more unique branches of Afro-Latin Jazz, but never let them stray too far from home.