Alegria Means Joy

The Gabriel Alegria Sextet enlivened and intrigued the audience at The Seasons Saturday night. The group of five young Peruvians and a South African meld strains from American, GabrielAlegria4.jpgPeruvian and African music into a sophisticated hybrid with which they are writing a new chapter in the history of Latin jazz. Since earning an advanced degree in music from the University of Southern California, Alegria has spent several years refining his concept of Afro-Peruvian music. His fluency as a trumpet player is matched by his skills as a composer, arranger and leader. He has assembled a band of kindred spirits whose joy in performing seduces his listeners to receive with enthusiasm music that is often as challenging as any in the most adventurous modern jazz. 

The concert included most of the pieces on Alegria’s CD, the appropriately titled Nuevo Mundo (New World). In nearly every one, multifaceted rhythms buoyed beguiling melodies, as in the

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aching beauty of “El Mar” and the simulated horses’ clip-clops of Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón’s percussion in “El Norte.” In some pieces, the melodic and harmonic components suggest Herbie Hancock of the Maiden Voyage period or certain aspects of Wayne Shorter’s writing. That is due in part to the 

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harmonic and tonal blend of Alegria’s trumpet or flugelhorn with Laurandrea Leguia’s tenor saxophone, but Hancock and Shorter never had rhythms like these. Lobatón’s and drummer Hugo Alcazar’s percussive inventions run under, around and through the proceedings so that shifting rhythms are at the heart of virtually everything the band plays. 
In “El Norte,” Lobatón, guitarist Yuri Juarez and bassist Ramon de Bruyn became a band within a band, tending a patch of rhythmic growth all their own. de Bruyn frequently adds wordless singing as a third voice in the horn ensemble. There is a lot going on in this band. Toward the end of the evening, Lobatón came off the stage, stepped onto a large sheet of wood down front and demonstrated the Peruvian zapateo dancing of which he is said to be one of the country’s leading masters. He had as much percussion dexterity and inventiveness with his feet on the floor as with his hands on the cajon, cajita and quijada. In a post-intermission conversation on stage, Alegria said that, for all of their serious musical intentions, the band’s primary goal is to spread joy and make people happy. Saturday night, they succeeded. 
The Nuevo Mundo CD has impressive guest appearances by trumpeter Bobby Shew, trombonist Bill Watrous, pianist Russell Ferrante and singers Tierney Sutton and Lisa Harriton. On its own, the Alegria band is touring the US through early March. For the schedule, click here.
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