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Album of the Week: Pucusana, Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet

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Pucusana
Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet
Saponegro Reecords

Transformation is an inevitable reality in the jazz world; regardless of where an artist starts musically, their sound will change throughout their journey. There are too many factors that creep into a musician's life throughout their career—at some point, something will inspire new directions in their music. Change doesn't always guarantee a move towards higher artistic ground though, it simply means that an artist's music will sound different throughout the years. It's possible that an artist's music may change for the worse, resulting in a pale representation of an initially promising individual. Artistic advancement requires evolution—the smart and thoughtful development of core concepts through experimentation. Each step towards the future needs to show refinement of the artist's fundamental aesthetics and an expansion of their original ideas. They need to hold onto the qualities that shaped their initial passions and find new complimentary ideas that stretch their imaginations. It's a process that takes years and sometimes lifetimes, but it's also one that can't be put on the back burner—true artistic evolution requires a constant step forward. Trumpet player Gabriel Alegría and his Afro-Peruvian Sextet show a definite artistic evolution on their sophomore release Pucusana, pushing their mixture of jazz aesthetics and Afro-Peruvian culture into another stage of maturity.

Alegría's Defined Personality As A Songwriter
Alegría displays a defined personality as a songwriter on several tracks, showing his growing perspective on Afro-Peruvian Jazz. A crowd of hands clap a steady rhythmic pulse while the group's wind players provide broad sweeping colors on “Pucusana" until the full rhythm section dives into a quick festejo rhythm behind the main melody. Alegría leaps into a lyrical flugelhorn improvisation, using the groove's inherent momentum to build into long and rapid streams of fluid ideas. The rhythm section fades into an open feel while saxophonist Laura Andrea Leguía eases flowing lines through the space, and when the full group returns, Leguía's statement grows into a rhythmic frenzy. A steady groove from percussionist Freddy “Huevito" Lobatón's cajita sends the group into a jagged melody on “Piso 19" before the group explodes into a swing section with distinct shades of Miles Davis. Drummer Hugo Alcázar balances between Peruvian rhythms and jazz behind Alegría's forceful trumpet solo before bursting into a double time swing that allows the trumpet player to spin bop flavored lines. Leguía winds smart sequences and aggressive streams of edgy lines through the rich chordal structure until Alcázar displays his ability to build powerful ideas from drum virtuosity. Alegría's muted trumpet bounces a rhythmic melody around the rhythm of Lobatón's zapateo dancing on “Mono De Nazca," followed by a strong repetition by the whole band. Leguía pushes through the thick groove with aggressive lines grounded by her bold tenor tone, while Alegría shows a Davis influence in his improvisation's smart phrasing and melodic lines. Guest artist keyboard player Russell Ferrante creates a shimmering statement against a sparse backdrop, and after a quick return to the melody, Lobatón explodes into a ferocious display of cajon mastery. These pieces find Alegría making bold steps forward as a composer, creating inspired settings for his band's explorations.

Leguía's Emergence As A Strong Composer
Leguía emerges as a strong voice in the band, contributing two wonderful compositions. Guitarist Yuri Juárez and Lobatón provide a lush backdrop to Leguía's rich flowing melody on “Puerto Pimentel," creating an engaging and simultaneously intimate musical moment. As Leguía eases into her improvisation, she plays reflective lines that grow in intensity as the rhythm section responds to her every move with a telepathic sensitivity. The rhythm section breaks the time as Alegría floats broad lines over the chords, until the rhythmic momentum returns, leading into active statements from both Alegría and Juárez. Alegría's muted trumpet spins mysterious lines over a steady groove from Juárez on “Eva," giving way to a luxuriously lyrical melody from Leguía. The saxophonist continues into her improvisation with the same sense of rich beauty, building into a memorable statement. The return of Juárez's original grooves open the door into a lyrical improvisation from Alegría that sparkles with an understated grace. Leguía's compositions help expand the overall spectrum of the group's sound with a distinctly different approach based upon the same core concept.

Creative Interpretations Of Traditional Music
The group keeps their work steeped in Afro-Peruvian and Jazz traditions with several standards, but explores new and creative ways to interpret them. A raucous line from Alegría screams into a full blown band riff dripping with bluesy soul over a lando groove on “Taita Guaranguito" made even more funky with chunky organ fills from Ferrante. Alegría fills his improvisation with growling articulations that demand attention, until the rhythm section falls into a swing groove behind Leguía's jazz edged statement. Juárez starts his solo with syncopated variations on the main groove, falling into an absolutely engaging rhythmic conversation with Lobatón. An angular ostinato from Juárez leads into a cleverly arranged melody on “Toro Mata," leaving plenty of room for rhythmic commentary from Lobatón. Leguía assertively tears into her improvisation with a confident attitude and driven sound, until the rhythm section leans more towards swing, allowing Alegría to create a smart and lyrical statement. The group works into a raging modern jazz momentum for solos from Juárez and bassist Ramón De Bruyn, setting the stage for an explosive exchange between Leguía, Alegría, and Lobatón. A rhythmic vamp on a single note from Juárez introduces “My Favorite Things" with a modal openness until a powerful festejo rhythm sends the group into the familiar melody. Leguía's soprano sax explodes into an attention grabbing collection of ferocious melodies that race in and out of the bold piano voicings from guest pianist Arturo O'Farrill. In a fitting tribute to John Coltrane, the band leaves just Leguía and Lobatón in a duo conversation that would have made Trane and Elvin Jones proud. Alegría's sextet stays in familiar territory with traditional compositions on these tracks, but their interpretations overflow with inventive energy, shining a new light on these works.

A Clear Evolution
Alegría and his sextet display a clear evolution on Pucusana, presenting a more defined idea of the possibilities inherent in Afro-Peruvian Jazz. The repertoire reveals a growing confidence within the group and a exciting willingness to stretch their original blend between Afro-Peruvian culture and jazz. Alegría's compositions bring more of his jazz background to the forefront, from a Miles Davis influence to a preference for dropping into swing. Leguía's compositions exude a rich and reflective compositional style which differs from Alegría's approach, but still tap into the soul of the music. Alegría's arrangements of traditional songs bristle with excitement, reflecting an enthusiastic openness to new directions. As a unit, the sextet gels at every turn, crackling with interactive energy and a sympathetic musical approach. Both Alegría and Leguía shine as soloists, expanding their improvisational forays across rhythmic and harmonic territories. Alcázar skillfully walks between Peruvian rhythms, swing, and dynamic interactive colors, while Juárez steadily provides a harmonic foundation. Lobatón consistently serves as the group's heartbeat, creating a firm connection to traditional Peruvian music while comfortably charging into improvisational jazz directions. Alegría and his sextet take an overall step forward on Pucusana, making a bold statement about the potential of the group and Afro-Peruvian Jazz to shape the future of the Latin Jazz world.


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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.
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