When I think of jazz, horn or piano happily invades my mind. Piano is nice, yet horn is nicer—it can really let go and wail in a way that one does not encounter in classical music. I am somewhat familiar with Cuban and Brazilian jazz, but thanks to Music Mountain, that Saturday night jazz club in the hills of Falls Village, I’ve been introduced to Peruvian jazz last Saturday night. Gabriel Alegria’s Afro-Peruvian Quintet transfixed the audience at Gordon Hall by levitating the stage a few inches higher.
They opened with Jorge (George) Gershwin’s classic “Summertime” with Gabriel blowing fiercely on trumpet; they segued into Peruvian mutations of the tune that allowed every band member an instrumental solo, then concluded with the traditional American version. Bandleader Gabriel masterfully adjusted the dynamics of his trumpet with the rubber end of a bathroom plunger, an activity that redeems such a lowly invention. “Circle of Light” followed which also exhibited a circular structure where the concluding climax repeats the more mellow opening. I presume this piece was a paean to the city of Lima where the band has its roots when not touring the globe.
Laura Andrea Leguia is the sax player (curved and straight). She composes and arranges about 60% of the band’s music, while Gabriel (who also pays flugelhorn) does the rest. She, too, can play a mean or sweet horn. They have a New Orleans inflection with Armstrong edges and looping arabesque structures from Spain; they are a new chapter in the global handbook of jazz (yet to be written). They employ tunes from the Peruvian coast with diatonic transpositions.
Percussion in most numbers is the lead instrument that the players revolve around as they take solo turns. Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón is a master-player of the, a cajón, a wooden box with an opening in the rear. This is a Peruvian invention. It is thought that the workers at the docks used broken crates for percussion at night for dancing parties. The cajón is currently popular in Cuban music and has even been adopted in Spain since the 1970s for flamenco music. (They put in a resonator either to give a more “Spanish” feel to the music or put it in to make the box easier to play.) Freddy was not only the heartbeat of the band, but he showed off his Peruvian tap-dancing moves. He also plays the quijada, the jaw of a donkey, which is a traditional African percussion instrument employed for more delicate effects.
Yuri Juarez on acoustic guitar displayed a liquid fluidity few can exhibit with such natural ease. Bam Bam Rodriguez (from Venezuela yet studied in Belgium and Netherlands for advanced degrees) on double bass is based in New York City when not touring the globe. This thirteen-year-old band features a seamless weld.
“Toro Mata” (Bull kills) opens with clarion burst and concludes with modulated elegy (in the same opening melody) for the matador. I enjoyed the progress from sunlit extroversion to shade introversion.
In the second half they played “Puerto Pimentel,” a sweet portrait of a poor fishing town about ten miles north of Lima. Their instrumentals displayed a broad program that did not inhibit the music. The looping structure of the music allowed variations in refrains: a wandering and return motif. And did those horns blow! They performed quite a long down-temp encore to the small but excited audience. The energy was there on stage and in the appreciative audience.
One can listen to some of their original music at http://www.afroperuviansextet.com/discography. (When performing in Peru they have a second percussion player.)
This performance was part of the Saturday evening Jazz series at Music Mountain. Who says you need to take the train to Manhattan to hear great jazz? You can just drive up Music Mountain on the right night to arrive in Peru to discover something really new.