The Exploring series allows you to travel with me as I explore various sides of Latin Jazz that are still fairly new to me. I’ve studied and performed Cuban-based Latin Jazz quite a bit, and to a lesser degree, I’ve been involved with Brazilian influenced Latin Jazz. Today’s modern Latin Jazz world encompasses much more than the music of Cuba and Brazil though, and I feel a bit behind the times. I encourage you to join me as I broaden my horizons and learn more about a variety of Latin Jazz styles.
Over the past two Exploring posts, I’ve discovered musicians performing Afro-Peruvian Jazz and Argentine Jazz; I’ve done quite a bit of listening since then and now its time to begin some study. I’ve jumped back Afro-Peruvian Jazz this week; my conclusions are based upon analysis of recordings and some research that I’ve done online. I still making some assumptions at this point – remember I’m exploring – so if you can help me fill in gaps, please leave a comment!
At this point, I’m looking at the music from a comparative angle; I’m looking for elements that differentiate Afro-Peruvian Jazz from Afro-Cuban Jazz. Some elements stay the same – the use of jazz harmonies, an emphasis upon improvisation, and the use of traditional wind instruments – I don’t need to delve into those pieces any further. The musical elements that I need to study are the ones that I don’t understand – the musical pieces that maintain functions unique to Peruvian culture. While some of these elements may seem obvious at this point, they will serve as starting points for future, more in-depth investigations.
Just as the sound of Afro-Cuban Jazz derives from the timbales, congas, and bongó, the spirit of Afro-Peruvian Jazz lies in traditional percussion instruments. I’ve isolated three major instruments used extensively in Afro-Peruvian Jazz: the cajon, the cajita, and the quijada. I’ve looked into Peruvian music outside the jazz realm and encountered additional percussion instruments. Although I imagine these additional instruments play a role in Afro-Peruvian Jazz somewhere, I’ve only heard the three instruments that I mentioned thus far.
For many people, the conga symbolizes the look and feel of Afro-Cuban Jazz; the cajon serves as the symbolic centerpiece of Afro-Peruvian Jazz. It is literally a large wooden box with a rectangular shape. The percussionist sits on the cajon and reaches down to strike it with their hands. The drummer can potentially pull a number of tones from the cajon, ranging from a low bass note to a high crack with a snare drum quality. In some cases, the player may change pitch on the cajon by pressing the head with their foot. Each Peruvian rhythmic style carries its own cajon pattern, which the player may elaborate through improvisation.
The cajon sits at the centerpiece of Peruvian music, but it has also been found elsewhere. In Cuba, the cajon has been used in various styles of rumba, dating back to the roots of the style when rumba was played on crates at ship docks. The cajon became the drum of choice in modern flamenco music as well, playing dance rhythms behind guitarists. American popular artists have also adopted the cajon, using its wide range of tones to imitate drum kits sounds. While the instrument may stay the same in these contexts, its important to remember that the rhythms and function of the instrument differ from Peruvian styles.
The cajita creates a powerful sound based upon its deceptively small appearance. At the size of a shoebox, the cajita hangs from the performer’s neck. It is literally a small wooden box that the performer strikes with a stick. While the performer hits the sides of the box, they also open and close a lid on the top of the box. As the lid closes, it creates a percussive tone, different in pitch than the stick. The combination of the stick and lid open a world of polyrhythmic opportunities, adding a huge palette for the jazz improviser.
Literally the jaw of a donkey, the quijada can be played in two different ways. It can be struck to create a rattling sound; this works more as effect – the initial attack serves as the only specific rhythmic point. In the United States, the vibraslap evolved from the quijada, a more refined version of the instrument that creates a similar rattling sound. The quijada can also be played with a small stick to create a scraping sound. The instrument serves a function similar to the Cuban guiro in this context, maintaining a constant rhythm.
Whereas many Afro-Cuban Jazz rhythmic structures arose from popular Cuban dance styles, most Afro-Peruvian styles seem to be linked to folkloric roots. The two most common styles that serve as a basis to Afro-Peruvian Jazz are the Festejo and Landó. Both rhythms are based around dances, much as Cuban rumba or Puerto Rican bomba grew into Latin Jazz forms from their folkloric dance roots. Both styles have common songs with rich lyrics that refer to Peruvian history; the songs also include call and response between vocalists. Although I’ve gotten to the point where I recognize some of these styles, I’m still working out the details of the rhythmic structures (any help here would be greatly appreciated!). These two styles are simply starting points too; they are the most common, but there are several other styles that need attention – zamacueca, valse criollo, and the zapateado are all styles for further investigation.
Extensive Use of Guitar
The piano fills the role of chordal instrument in Afro-Cuban jazz, while the guitar (and sometimes the tres) sometimes makes a secondary appearance; the opposite aesthetic exists in Afro-Peruvian Jazz. The acoustic guitar serves as the primary chordal instrument, contributing a much thinner texture to the music. The rhythmic patterns leave more space than a traditional montuno, often incorporating more rests into the pattern. The guitar mostly plays chords and comping patterns, although the player may arpeggiate the part. Although I would imagine that the guitar player’s performance must be tied into the overall rhythmic style, I haven’t found the connection just yet. The guitar remains an essential part of the Peruvian sound though, a must for the rhythm section.
HELP ME EXPLORE FURTHER!
Do you have more specifics about Afro-Peruvian music that you could share? Can you lead us towards a great resource to learn more? LEAVE A COMMENT and guide us to more information – I think that we’d all like to dig deeper into this music!
I wanted to highlight a couple of outstanding albums that I’ve encountered in the past weeks that touch both the Afro-Peruvian Jazz and Argentinean Jazz realms. Full reviews will follow soon, but since we’re exploring, I wanted to throw out a recommendation for two quality releases:
Thanks for Sofía Koutosvitis for pointing my attention towards another one of her groups- Alcatraz. This group concentrates upon the performance of Peruvian music with a touch of jazz influences. The album includes tasteful and highly musical bass work from Edward Pérez as well as Sofía’s engaging vocals; it’s a fantastic trip into Peruvian music, well worth the listen.
Inspired by the music of Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla, European jazz saxophonist Dick da Graaf assembled a trio to perform jazz-tinged versions of Piazzolla’s work. The group includes da Graaf on saxophone, Michael Gustorff on violin, and Hans Sparla on accordion, collectively known as Trio Nuevo. Their album highlights several arrangements of Piazzolla songs as well as some da Graaf originals – it’s a distinctive take on some classic music.