Album of the Week: Nuevo Mundo, Gabriel Alegria

by chip on May 30, 2008

Nuevo Mundo
Gabriel Alegria
Saponegro Records

Emerging trends in Latin Jazz rarely appear out of thin air, they simply spend years existing outside of mainstream awareness. These trends generally start as an idea among a group of musicians, and they pursue it diligently. Early experimentations might include rough edges, but a powerful concept always spreads. Listeners become interested, and other artists integrate the same ideas. As the trend gains momentum among its small group of followers, the rest of the world remains happily unaware. The trend needs an individual with a strong musical voice and a clearly defined vision to push it into the general public’s consciousness. This person’s vision generally carries such strength that the greater music world can’t help but be effected by it. Trumpeter Gabriel Alegria stands poised to introduce Afro-Peruvian Jazz to the world with a collection of strong performances on Nuevo Mundo that demonstrate the natural connection between jazz and Peruvian music.

Incorporating Swing and Afro-Peruvian Rhythms
Some songs find a tangible connection between jazz and Peruvian styles by integrating various rhythmic feels and standard repertoire. Alegria, trumpeter Bobby Shew, and trombonist Bill Watrous assertively play a rhythmic melody over drummer Hugo Alcazar’s swing feel on “Buscando A Huevito” until percussionist Freddy Lobatón’s cajon implies a Festejo rhythm. Watrous tears through a series of quick bebop lines over the swing feel until the band transitions into a much thinner texture with a Lando rhythm. Lobatón, guitarist Walter Jocho Velasquez, and bassist Joscha Oetz engage in an introspective interplay, leading into Shew’s melodic solo. Velasquez and Oetz establish a subdued vamp over a Lando rhythm on “Summertime” which Alegria contrasts with a raucous interpretation of the classic Gershwin melody. Alegria uses his plunger mute and spacious phrasing to build an improvisation full of personality and bluesy power. The rhythm section supports Velasquez’s solo with conversational responses and subtle dynamic shifts, while they melt into a cajon, guitar, and bass trio for Oetz’s strong statement. Alegria and saxophonist Laurandrea Leguia gently present a lush melody over a colorful background on “Las Hijas Del Sol,” smoothly transitioning into a subdued solo from Velasquez. The group explores the open texture, allowing for spacious interplay, which Alegria enters as the main improviser. He builds into a strong dynamic, setting up a double time swing rhythm for keyboardist Russell Ferrante’s intensive improvisation. Lobatón improvises furiously on bongo throughout “Piano De Patio (Y Bongo),” filling in spaces between the addictive groove and the rhythmically jagged melody. The rhythm section collectively improvises until Alegria bursts into a solo that pushes the flowing groove into a high-energy double time swing, inspiring Alegria into a frenzy of fast licks. After the group revisits the melody, Lobatón returns with an impressive display of zapateo dancing, using his feet to create a strong groove and stunning solo licks. Alegria and his group display a powerful understanding of both jazz and Afro-Peruvian styles here, utilizing their knowledge to smoothly fuse the genres.

Implying Jazz Aesthetics Within Peruvian Styles
Many tracks stay focused upon Afro-Peruvian styles and utilize general jazz aesthetics into the performance. Lobatón provides a rubato cajita solo before moving into “El Norte,” a song that combines a Festejo rhythm, a 5/4 time signature, and the chord changes to the Dave Brubeck standard “Take Five.” Alegria and vocalist Tierney Sutton perform the melody as a duet, moving into a soulful statement from Velasquez. After a quick return to the melody, Lobatón and Alcazar trade ideas on cajita and cajon, building into an intensive exchange. Alegria and Leguia perform an uplifting melody that floats above a powerful rhythm section approach on “El Sur.” Witty melodic invention drives Alegria’s solo, which draws enthusiastic response from Alcazar. Lobatón accompanies Leguia’s improvisation, helping draw her ideas forward with percussive responses. The group fades away, leaving Velasquez and Lobatón for a spectacular cajon display, which highlights Lobatón’s virtuosity and musical sensibilities. Alegria and Leguia delicately open “El Mar” with intertwining lines that play off harmonic variations until they melt into a subdued melody. Alegria plays off the spacious feel, taking his time to explore introspective lines; when he builds into a climax, the rhythm section follows with a driving groove. Lobatón takes a quick cajon solo that transitions into Leguia’s soulful solo, full of impassioned ideas. While these tracks never blatantly move into a swing rhythm, the essence of jazz informs every performance with a solid connection to the style.

An Inspiring Mixture of Jazz and Afro-Peruvian Music
Alegria and his group present an intoxicating collection of songs on Nuevo Mundo that brings jazz and Afro-Peruvian music into a cohesive whole, making the argument for the spread of this compelling fusion. The use of traditional Afro-Peruvian instruments and rhythmic styles ground the music firmly in this genre, and the rhythm section’s authentic and creative performance leaves no question to their credibility. The group tackles jazz harmony completely, stepping away from the traditional chordal movements of Peruvian folk music. Alegria’s solo voice balances a strong Miles Davis influence with a well-trained musicianship and a youthful exuberance; he resultantly has the ability to inspire and surprise, both excellent qualities in improvisers. In many ways, the group reflects a thorough training in both styles and they demonstrate the ability to see common relationships between them. Alegria’s concept never sacrifices the integrity of either jazz or Afro-Peruvian styles; in fact, the combination seems to strengthen the inherent aesthetics of each style. The musicians in his band reinforce this powerful blending of styles – they indulge the Peruvian genres with authentic performances and engage the improvisatory aspect of jazz with full force. As more people hear Alegria’s honest blend of styles, people may not be aware of its background, but they will definitely be looking for its inclusion into their future musical landscape.

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