Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Gabriel Alegria’s Afro-Peruvian Jazz Is Nothing Like What You Might Expect

As you would expect from a latin jazz album by someone named Gabriel Alegria, his Afro-Peruvian Sextet’s new cd Pucusana offers plenty of happiness. But it also has a striking amount of depth. Latin jazz is usually party music, and so is this, but this group covers vastly more emotional terrain, maybe because its influences draw far more from their native Peru than from the islands. In fact, much of this could be called Lima noir. Trumpeter Alegria offers more than a nod to vintage, 50s Miles Davis here, bolstered by Laura Andrea Leguia on saxes, Yuri Juarez on acoustic guitar and vocals, Freddy Lobaton on percussion, Hugo Alcazar on drums, and the Yellowjackets’ Russell Ferrante on keys, with bass duties split between John Benitez and Ramon De Bruyn. The songs here alternate between two kinds of grooves here: lando is the slow, slinky one, festejo the more upbeat.

The best one here is the opening track, Taita Guaranguito, an original arrangement of a traditional criollo melody. It’s not a cumbia, but it has the same kind of dusky slink: not surprising, considering that Alegria cites groundbreaking, eclectic Peruvian band los Hijos del Sol as a formative influence. With its unstoppable midtempo pulse and simple yet potently direct guitar solo, it would make a great surf song (or chicha song). Another standout track is Eva, written by Leguia. Her playing throughout the album is melodic, warmly intimate and stunningly terse: she doesn’t waste notes. Shifting from a brooding intro with muted trumpet to a bossa-pop theme, Leguia’s solo takes a surprisingly phantasmagorical direction, leaving it to Alegria to move the clouds away. Lobaton is a one-man percussion army, notably on another traditional tune, Toro Mata (Dead Bull), a chromatically-charged number rich with interplay, call-and-response, a devious false ending and an incisive bass solo from De Bruyn.

Their cover of My Favorite Things is casual yet intense, coalescing slowly around a bass beat and guest Arturo O’Farrill’s tensely chordal piano, Alcazar searching memorably for a place to settle in, Leguia spiraling down to some insistent Coltrane-influenced riffage. The title track contrasts Alegria’s moody Miles-influenced lines with Leguia’s buoyant excursion out of the rumbling drums. Another original, Piso 19 (The Nineteenth Floor) has a vividly urban , retro 50s bustle; the bouncy, playful Mono de Nazca has Leguia’s expansive solo winding down to echoey solo electric piano and then Benitez growling over a thicket of percussion. They close on a catchy, balmy tropical note with an alternate take of the third track featuring a soul-infused solo from Benitez again. Consider this a stealth candidate for best jazz album of 2010.

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September 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Roots of Chicha

What the soundtrack to The Harder They Come was for reggae, what the Nuggets anthology was for garage rock, The Roots of Chicha promises to be for chicha.  Like Australian country music, Japanese salsa or British rock, chicha is a quintessentially urban kind of alchemy, in this case a creation of the oil-boom cities of Peru beginning in the late 60s and continuing throughout the 80s where musicians raised on sounds from south of the border picked up electronic instruments and started mixing in surf music and psychedelic rock. Like bachata in the Dominican Republic or blues here in the US, the ruling classes in Peru scorned it. The radio didn’t play it and it was largely confined to the slums. Where it thrived.

 

The 17 tracks here are hypnotic and incredibly fun. Some of this sounds like scary surf music. Some sounds like salsa played by a psychedelic rock band (think early Santana without the 20-minute jams), with tinny guitars using all kinds of cheap effects. The beat is like ska but slower, and it swings more, but not as much as reggae. The feel is raw, direct and lo-fi; some would call it primitive. A labor of love created by Barbes Records’ Olivier Conan (leader of the sole American chicha band, Chicha Libre, whose intoxicatingly good debut cd just came out this year), this is the anthology that brought chicha out of Peru for the first time. None of the tracks here have ever been released outside the country, which is more surprising than it is tragic because these songs are so delightful. This is party music, after all (chicha is to Peru what malt liquor is here), and you don’t need to speak Spanish to appreciate it.

 

The Roots of Chicha includes song by five of the most pioneering chicha bands from the late 60s and early 70s. Los Mirlos open and close the cd on a similar note with tersely eerie, one-chord jams with the same mood as Egyptian Reggae by the Ventures, but stranger. They also contribute El Milagro Verde (The Green Miracle), another spooky, tinny reverb-guitar instrumental which is sort of the chicha national anthem, along with Muchachita del Oriente (Little Asian Girl), a party song that has nothing remotely Asian about it. Los Hijos del Sol are represented by another bouncing, incisively reverberating instrumental as well as two characteristically minor-key vocal numbers, the guitar taking off with the central catchy hook on the chorus.

 

Juaneco y Su Combo have three songs included here. Vacilando con Ayahuasca (High on Ayahuasca, a native psychedelic) isn’t the long psychedelic suite you’d assume but rather a catchy instrumental punctuated by a woman’s orgasmic sighs! Another faster instrumental sounds like a ripoff of Muchachita del Oriente – or maybe Muchachita del Oriente rips this off. Obviously there was a lot of cross-pollination going on. The third track is remarkably different, with a considerable Afro-Cuban influence.

 

Los Hijos del Sol follow what seems to be an effective and popular formula, verses that come straight out of salsa, with a lot of call-and-response to get the party going, followed by surfy guitar on the choruses. Los Destellos contribute a gorgeously hooky instrumental, A Patricia, that with a little exposure ought to be picked up by surf bands everywhere, as well as a vocal number and the world’s funniest Beethoven cover. Los Diablos Rojos manage to be both the most overtly surfy and most overtly latin of the bands here, equal parts dazzling Dick Dale tremolo guitar and third-generation Cuban son. There’s also a cut by electric banjoist Eusebio y Su Banjo, the defiant Mi Morena Rebelde (My Rebel Girl) which is more of a traditional cumbia than anything else here. Barbes Records continues to mine the rich vein of classic chicha with a brand-new anthology of songs by Juaneco y Su Combo, available for the first time outside Peru.

 

If the concept of seeing this stuff live intrigues you, Chicha Libre includes some of these songs in their set along with their sometimes even wilder originals. They play Barbes pretty much every Monday at 9:45ish, early arrival always a good idea.

October 29, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment