A decade ago Gabriel Alegría called upon his drummer-friend, Hugo Alcázar, to make a record where the music of the coastal part of Perú – its Afro-Perúvian music would collide with the beckoning rhythms of jazz. Thus as the story goes, Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet was born on a wing and a prayer. The groundplan – order of dance movements, speed markings, abrupt changes in tempo – shows an admiration for Landó, Festejo, Marinera and the affecting rhythms of Criollo music. But for the upwardly leaping figurations of mighty octaves of guapeo melded with Criollo vocalastics that launch the music this Afro-Peruvian Sextet recording 10 is trenchantly proclaimed by the cheerful aggressive energy of trumpet and saxophone.
Tensions tighten the music from end to end on this disc. The immediacy of the unbridled energy is inescapable from pianissimo to fortissimo and the visceral excitement is as palpable as the listener’s own racing heartbeat that is sure also to heat the blood to an unspecified degree. This is not unusual in an album from the Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet but every time one is made, the ensemble seems to reinvent its own music, the interpretations of others and in the case of 10 succeed in making almost irreverent re-imaginations of such sacred themes as those on “Caravan”, “Take Five”, “Birdland” and as you are left breathless by the end of it all, “The Star-Spangled Banner” as well.
Involved intensity appears to be uppermost in the Sextet’s ethos and this is intensified in the first bars of “Caravan”, though in this case they raise the stakes differently. Guapeo interjections that punctuate dizzying flights and drops by trumpet and saxophone, clusters of loud chords with silent bars between a very softly played questioning theme in “My Favourite Things” herald a controlled explosion, changes in rhetoric shaped to accentuate nervy force. In contrast, a rhythmically pliable but expansively shaped principal subject on the trumpet and saxophone accentuates the spaciousness implied in “Himno Nacional del Perú”, “Lonely Woman” and “Contigo Perú”- especially the Ornette Coleman piece – and within a steady pulse, a new theme is lyrically slanted.
These musicians don’t shy away from bending idiomatic phrases or rollicking tempo, or suspending time while tiptoeing through the music from one piece to another. Joy and sadness are opposite sides of a fabled tapestry that unfolds almost magically as bandmates traverse the topography of Afro-Peruvian and Afro-American soundscapes. Artistic imprints pierce the surface of the music, inviting the players to not only burrow deep into melodies and harmonies but also to respond to fabulous disturbances in rhythms. Vocalists and guapeo specialists go below the voice, also mining the music’s subtext. Dramatically they are able also to extend themselves as they overlay the dynamic with a shadowy angst that builds in intensity until the excitement is almost too much to bear.
Most of all what invites the most admiration for this disc is the fact that the tempestuousness of the music does not faze the artists at all. Upheaval emerges in a fire-power of ferocity. Extremes meet head to head. Alongside formidable technical expertise is a pervasive determination to confront the knottiest of musical issues, caution be damned. This is, in fact, one of the most adventurous sets of music that you are likely to be delightfully assaulted by anytime this year.
Track List: Caravan; Take Five/El Condor Pasa; Taita Guaranguito; My Favourite Things; Birdland; Himno Nacional del Perú; Lonely Woman; Contigo Perú; Homenaje a Chincha; The Star Spangled Banner.
Personnel: Gabriel Alegría: trumpet, flugelhorn, guapeo and vocals; Laura Andrea Leguía: soprano and tenor saxophones, guapeo and vocals; Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón: cajón, quijada, cajita, campana, guapeo and vocals; Yuri Juárez: acoustic and electric guitars and vocals; John Benitez: double bass (2, 3 & 7); Hugo Alcázar: drums, guapeo, vocals and cajita (1-4 & 6-8); Shirazette Tinnin: drums (5, 8 & 9); Ron Carter: double bass (1, 4 & 8); Essiet Essiet: double bass (5, 6, 9 & 10); Russell Ferrante: keyboards (6 & 8); Arturo O’Farrill: piano (6 & 10); Felix Valdelomar: guapeo and vocals (3 & 7); Octavio Castillo: steel guitar (3) and kalimba (9); Daniel Susnjar: second drum set (7); Pepê Villalobos: guapeo and vocals (3); Rosita Guzmán: guapeo and vocals (3); Gustavo Urbina: guitar and vocals (8); Badal Roy: tabla (6 & 9) and voice of the drum (9).
About the Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet
The Afro-Peruvian Sextet was formed in January of 2005. Composer and trumpet player Gabriel Alegría made a long distance phone call to drummer Hugo Alcázar, his long-time friend and band mate. “I have an idea and I need someone who can dance,” said Gabriel… and since that time the Afro-Peruvian Sextet has produced two albums and has performed more than 400 shows in North America and Perú. Read more…