What does integrity do in the face of adversity and oppression? What does honesty do in the face of lies and deception? What does decency do in the face of insult? How does virtue meet brute force?

These four questions were first posed in 1903 by the civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois in his book The Souls of Black Folk. In 2020, those words still ring loudly in the ears of contemporary thought leaders like Dr. Cornel West and, also, of modern jazz musicians like Arturo O’Farrill.

O’Farrill poses those same questions himself in his new album Four Questions, a fiercely ambitious and passionate work by the New York-based musician and his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.

It’s the Grammy-winning pianist and composer’s first album of all original material, and it covers a lot of thematic ground — including friendship, religion, philosophy, physics, economics and the birth of a child — in its eight compositions and hour-long runtime. But its centrepiece is the title track, which features an impassioned speech by Dr. West himself as O’Farrill and his orchestra deliver a blistering 16 minutes of fiery jazz.

Recently, O’Farrill joined Café Latino for a conversation about the thoughts, feelings and circumstances that motivated this latest project — and about his philosophy on jazz itself.