Every once in awhile there comes a musician who, when playing his or her chosen instrument, seems to carry within a vital life-force that is irrepressible, no matter what the circumstances of his or her playing. At the height of his powers, Charles Mingus was one such musician. Whether he was playing hot or cool, beautiful or ugly, he seemed to be fired up with a raw unparalleled force that appeared to spring from a vortex. Many musicians ever since have come close to literally bursting with this energy. But there are few—very few musicians—that come even close to exuding the intensity of trumpet and flugelhorn player, Gabriel Alegria.
This record, Nuevo Mundo, is a classic testament to creativity of the highest order. In the music contained within it we have a volcanic confluence of modern American music, Peruvian folk motifs and the all-pervasive African roots of both musics. And what Alegria does is funnel the musical lava through his horn whereby he makes a statement that is raw and harking to an ancient future so new that although there are touchstones of the historic past there is also something elementally new, unheard before… and altogether breathtaking.
The recording opens with a wonderful surprise. “Buscando a Huevito,” a three-part suite that swings wildly with trumpets (Alegria and Bobby Shew) and trombone (Bill Watrous) cavorting madly with the various percussion excursions of Freddy “Huevito” Lobaton. The track melds jazz and folk rhythms with dance forms, swinging, that is, from festejo to lando and back to festejo again. This veritable carnival sets the irrepressible tone for the record. It appears that Alegria can twist his rhythmic ingenuity around classic American song as well. “Summertime” gets the Afro-Peruvian treatment and here Alegria shows how cleverly he melds the old New Orleans style—making brilliant use of the plunger mute—while the gentle swing of the original is replaced by the infinitely hotter Latin rhythm, spurred on by the cajon and other percussion played by both Lobaton and Hugo Alcázar.
“El Norte,” takes the chord changes of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and crosses them with the Afro-Peruvian festejo to turn in another unique new song. Tierney Sutton’s vocals add to the wonderful elasticity of Alegria’s new composition. The interplay between Lobaton and Alcazar is exhilarating. “Las Hijas del Sol,” is a beautiful, elegiac impression of the innocence of children, seemingly against a sepia backdrop and plenty of atmosphere created by Russell Ferrante’s keyboards. Alegria’s glissandos and acrobatic leaps abound throughout as the trumpet begins to describe the skittering of the subject of the song. “El Sur” is another of Alegria’s sketches—this one a mirror of the sea in harness with woodwinds and horn. “Piano de Patio (y Bongo)” could very well describe a bar in the old quarter of a Peruvian town where—in the squeezed notes of Alegria’s trumpet—the spirit of Louis Armstrong cavorts with local percussionists. On this and also “El Mar” there is a wonderful interplay between Gabriel Alegria and Laurandrea Leguia’s tenor saxophone. Acoustic guitarist Walter “Jocho” Velasquez also excels here.
But the stellar performances come largely from the horn of Gabriel Alegria. This record, abounding in energy and innovation could very well be one of the most memorable musical testaments to the meeting of jazz and its seeming alter-ego Afro-Peruvian music.
Tracks: Buscando a Huevito; Summertime; El Norte; Las Hijas del Sol; El Sur; Piano del Patio; El Mar.
Personnel: Gabriel Alegria: trumpet, flugelhorn; Freddy “Huevito” Lobaton: percussion (cajon, cajita, quijita de burro), zapateo dancing; Laurandrea Leguia: tenor saxophone; Hugo Alcazar: drums, percussion; Joscha Ortiz: acoustic bass; Walter “Jocho” Velasquez: acoustic guitar; Bobby Shew: trumpet (1); Bill Watrous: trombone (1); Lisa Harrington: vocals (1, 4, 6); Tierney Sutton: vocals (3); Russell Ferrante: keyboards (1, 4, 6, 7).
Label: Saponegro Records | Release date: January 2008