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.

As 2009 continues to unfold, one fact stands apparent in the Latin Jazz world – Afro-Peruvian jazz keeps gaining strength and momentum. We moved into the year with the announcement that guitarist Eric Kurimski’s Réplica had won Latin Jazz Album of the Year at LJC, a well-deserved tribute to an outstanding collection of Afro-Peruvian Jazz performances. From there, stellar Afro-Peruvian Jazz releases have continued to arrive in 2009, including pianist Geoffrey Keezer’s Áurea and guitarist Yuri Juarez’s Afroperuano. Peruvian jazz trio Manante made an impact upon the international stage with their new album Para Los Engreidos and a growing internet presence. Trumpet player Gabriel Alegria toured a large portion of the United States with his Afro-Peruvian Jazz Sextet, thrilling audiences and inspiring students at educational clinics. Just last week, the first restaurant and nightclub exclusively supporting Afro-Peruvian Jazz opened its doors in New York City, as the Tutuma Social Club began its run with artists such as Sofia Rei Koutsovitis and Pilar de la Hoz. Afro-Peruvian Jazz has grown into a major piece of the Latin Jazz world, and we need to keep an eye on its evolution into the coming years.

It’s important to remember that Afro-Peruvian Jazz didn’t arrive out a vacuum in the past two years though, and I’ve began looking back into earlier examples of the style – leading me to New York vocalist Corina Bartra. A wonderful vocalist originally hailing from Peru, Bartra has been working in New York for several years now, spreading the word about Afro-Peruvian music and its connection to jazz. Her music background stands upon solid shoulders with degrees from Queens College, Long Island University, and the Mannes College of Music. Bartra adds musical depth and originality to her pieces with extensive arrangements, creative instrumental sections, and a distinctive vocal quality that walks the line between traditional Peruvian vocals and jazz phrasing. Her repertoire includes jazz-tinged arrangements of Peruvian folk music, jazz standards with a Peruvian twist, inspired original compositions, and quick dips into the realm of Afro-Cuban jazz. Over the course of several years and extensive performing experiences, Bartra developed a solid approach to the combination jazz and Afro-Peruvian rhythms, giving the Latin Jazz world an early shot of Afro-Peruvian Jazz.

I’ve had the opportunity to check out a couple of Bartra’s albums over the past couple of weeks, and I wanted to pass on the information about an interesting artist that has been doing Afro-Peruvian Jazz for a while

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Son Zumbon
Originally available in 2000, Bartra did some additional recording in 2008 and re-released the album, giving us a broad perspective of her musical concept. The majority of the album stays focused upon Afro-Peruvian rhythms, providing a healthy dose of festejo and lando, with quick dips into Cuban and Brazilian realms. The majority of the repertoire comes directly from Bartra’s compositions, but she also draws upon her band members, traditional songs, and a jazz standard. Bartra’s vocals shine in this context; she obviously understands the genre’s conventions and can phrase smoothly around the vital accent points. At the same time, there’s a unique quality and rough edge to the tone of Bartra’s voice that reflects an interest in jazz modernism and 1970s avant-garde approaches. Bartra surrounds herself with outstanding musicians from the jazz and Latin music world on Son Zumbon, who understand and fully support her ideas. Bassist Oscar Stagnaro, drummer Vince Cherico, and saxophonist Peter Brainin all appear on the album, guaranteeing a strong Latin Jazz edge, while guitarist Andres Prado and percussionist Fred Berrihill provide a solid Peruvian foundation. The album resonates with musical depth and originality, displaying a solid knowledge of both jazz and Afro-Peruvian music, as well as a defined artistic approach.

Several track stand out on Son Zumbon, due to their strong performances and original arrangements. Bartra jumps right into a spirited vocal over a lando rhythm on “No Valentin,” giving way to a fiery improvisation from Brainin, an exploratory scat, and some solid cajon work from Diaz. “Alcatrachu” cleverly utilizes Bartra’s vocal and Brainin’s lyrical soprano sax to blend two classic festejo themes, providing a nice framework for improvisations full of personality from Brainin and pianist Tino Derado. A sly cha cha cha grounds Bartra’s English vocal on “Latino Blues,” before Brainin, Derado, and Berrihill open the song into a wealth of improvised creativity. “Bailan Todas Las Razas” moves between lando and festejo, contributing shape and form to Bartra’s vocal, as well as Brainin and Derado’s improvisations. An airy and open feeling permeates the mood on the standard “Green Dolphin Street,” as the rhythm section moves between a 6/8 rhythm and double time swing, allowing Bartra to creatively stretch her lyric and pushing soloists into different directions. The group dramatically jumps into a series of hits over a festejo rhythm on “Osiris,” introducing Bartra’s distinct lyric that gives way to an outstanding statement from Stagnaro. Son Zumbon contains exciting performances from all the band members, anchored by Bartra’s original compositions and arrangements, making it a prime example of Afro-Peruvian Jazz.

Bambu Sun
Recorded in 2006, Bambu Sun represents a re-emergence of Bartra as an Afro-Peruvian Jazz artist after a departure into the world of chant and mediation. There’s an energetic sense of momentum behind Bartra’s musical presence on the album, signaling a refreshed artist with an open mind and creative spirit. Her arrangements and compositions seem inspired and her vocal performance shines with an experienced and confident sound. She stays even closer to the world of Afro-Peruvian rhythms on Bambu Sun, with only a couple of quick visits to Cuba and Brazil. The majority of the album contains Bartra originals, with short side trips into jazz standards and traditional Peruvian songs, as well as an interesting interpretation of the popular music world. Several of the same musicians support Bartra on Bambu Sun, including Cherico and Diaz. In addition, Bartra employs several other top-notch New York Latin Jazz musicians, including saxophonist Jay Rodriguez, pianist Cliff Korman, and percussionist Oscar Torres, as well as a guest appearance from jazz bassist Rufus Reid. Bartra maintains the same type of professional and creative presence that she displayed on Son Zumbon, but Bambu Sun resonates with a sense of forward motion and artistic progression that comes from experience.

That artistic development defines Bambu Sun, and the progression peeks through each track. The rhythm section closely outlines the lando rhythm on “A Saca Camote con el Pié” as Rodriguez riffs around Bartra’s Spanish lyric and Diaz creates a conversational stream on the cajon. The group creates a soothing atmosphere with a down tempo lando on “Magia y Ritmo Ancestral,” making room for Bartra’s uplifting vocal and Rodriguez’s cutting soprano sax sound. Bartra confidently scats over a double time swing feel on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” as the band falls into a 1960s Miles Davis aesthetic with a highly interactive performance. An inventive bass lines from David Hertzberg opens “Afro Peruvian Folk Song,” a compilation of Peruvian folk songs that draws an album highlight performance from each member, both individually and as a unit. The rich timbre of Korman’s chords fill the background on the McCartney/Lennon composition “Blackbird,” as Bartra confidently makes the lyric her own and Rodriguez infuses the song with a soulful improvisation. Bartra winds a quick series of lyrics around an up-tempo festejo on “Majoral,” setting the stage for rich improvisatory statements from both Korman and Rodriguez. Bartra’s music resonates with a new sense of purpose on Bambu Sun, as she confirms her Afro-Peruvian roots and boldly looks into new directions artistically.

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Bartra offers a creative and informed approach to Afro-Peruvian Jazz on both of these albums, showing us that the style thrived long before we found it here at LJC! Take a minute to check out Bartra’s music at her website or her MySpace. She has a new album arriving soon, so we’ll be hearing even more great Afro-Peruvian jazz in the near future. So stay tuned, and for now, enjoy Son Zumbon and Bambu Sun!

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Check Out These Related Posts:
Exploring Latin Jazz: 2 Modern Latin Jazz Artists In Peru
4 Latin Jazz Vocalists Forging Their Own Identities
On a Mission To Promote Afro-Peruvian Jazz: Pasache Music
Album Of The Week: The Year Of Two Summers, Edward Perez

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