Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Subtly Powerful Album of Protest Jazz From Afro-Peruvian Bandleader Gabriel Alegria

“Social distancing.”

Ewwwwww.

Of all the oxymorons in lockdowner newspeak, that’s the most odious. In terms of being self-contradictory, it’s second only to “remote learning” – a very, very, very, very remote approximation of the real thing.

Trumpeter Gabriel Alegría‘s new album of protest jazz – streaming at Spotify – is titled Social Distancing. It’s almost all-instrumental, and the few moments that are not speak to healing, or are cached in metaphorical terms rather than leveling any specific accusation. Yet as a parable of and reaction to the fascist horror of 2020, it’s unsurpassed.

The centerpiece is The Mask, a stark urban noir soul tableau which is almost all bass and percussion until horns and violin join in shivering terror behind a metaphorically loaded spoken word passage by percussionist Freddy Lobaton. No names are mentioned, but there is a devil involved.

Kitty O’Meara reads her lockdown poem And the People Stayed Home in the opening track, And the People, which is balmy yet somber, Alegria terse and resonant alongside Alex Gonzalez’s violin, backed by Jocho Velasquez’s acoustic guitar, Mario Cuba’s bass, and Hugo Alcázar’s drums. The group reprise it in Spanish at the end of the album: its message of hope and transformation (but not in a bastardized New Abnormal way) went viral a year ago.

The rest of the album explores a wide range of dynamics, with both optimism and some searing critiques. In Mirando El Shingo, a catchy tropical anthem, the percussion section work a gusty groove as the bass dances, Alegria and then saxophonist Laura Andrea Leguía sail overhead. The next track, titled COVID-19, has both a boisterous New Orleans-flavored rhythm but also acidic twelve-tone harmony grounded in Russell Ferrante’s piano and the guitar. Leguía’s modal solo has an aptly distant ominousness: five out of six people had natural immunity, but the fake news media kept the fear blaring 24/7.

George and Breonna, a shout-out to the late George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, is built around a festive exchange of trumpet and sax riffs over a cantering 12/8 groove, in the Mingus tradition: exuberant song, grimly relevant title. The New Normal turns out to be a slinky organ tune with Monklike blues phantasmagoria from Yuri Juarez’s guitar and an increasingly dissociative raveup from the rest of the band.

Leguía switches to soprano sax for Any Day Now, whose initial, jaunty brightness grows more enigmatic as the harmonies get more complex and the percussion kick up a storm: she delivers another killer, modally-spiced solo midway through. Amaranta is an uneasy, airy take on late 50s Miles Davis and the best song on the album. The false start into a waltz, Alegria’s sobering, crystalline solo over crashing cymbals, and Leguía’s spine-tingling legato are just a few highlights.

Driven by energetic trumpet and sax over a churning groove, Octavio y Natalia was inspired by Alegria’s and Juarez’s kids playing together. Both dads want to make sure their kids get to enjoy a normal childhood, but knowing that their lives could be imperiled by racist hate is part of the picture. This one’s on the shortlist for best jazz albums of 2021.

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March 20, 2021 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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