The Afro-Peruvian Sextet

“El Sexteto Afroperuano está escribiendo un nuevo capítulo en la historia del Latin Jazz.”
– Doug Ramsey, Rifftides

El Sexteto Afroperuano fue fundado en el año 2005. El logro más importante de este ensamble ha sido consolidar una síntesis muy personal de la música de la costa peruana y el jazz. El grupo se caracteriza por un balance entre el estudio y trabajo académico profundo y una ejecución sobre el escenario llena de picardía y sentimiento. En cada concierto, el grupo transmite energía y conocimiento al mismo tiempo. El Sexteto Afroperuano busca hacer honor a la tradición y a la vanguardia, no solo como corrientes musicales, sino como un estilo que adquiere vida propia.

Cada integrante del Sexteto Afroperuano demuestra maestría tanto en la ejecución artística como en la docencia. Durante más de 10 años la misión incansable del grupo ha sido llevar el mensaje y espíritu de la música afroperuana a todo el mundo. Esta experiencia se ha dado mediante conciertos, clases maestras, sesiones informales y hasta reuniones culinarias, ya que la música de la costa peruana y la cocina siempre van de la mano. En palabras del maestro trompetista Bobby Shew, “¡parar con estos músicos constituye un captítulo entero en la vida de uno!”

A la fecha el Sexteto Afroperuano ha producido cinco CDs, un DVD y un vinilo. El público del Sexteto proviene de todos los rincones del planeta y se caracteriza por fans quienes trabajan al lado del grupo en diversos proyectos como la producción de conciertos y ventas de merchandise. Una de las propuestas más notables del grupo se llama Tour Perú, un concepto exitoso mediante el cual fans del Sexteto recorren todo el Perú con la banda.

La banda tiene bases de operaciones tanto en Lima como en Nueva York. En ambas ciudades el grupo ha sido aceptado y adoptado por la cultura local. En el 2015 La revista Nuyorquina Hot House le dio su máximo premio de “Ensamble del año” al Sexteto Afroperuano, mientras que el periódico New York City Jazz Record hizo lo propio al otorgarle el galardón de “Mejor disco de Latin Jazz 2015.”

El Latin Jazz Network publicó lo siguiente: “Muy de vez en cuando llega un artista quien, al tocar su instrumento, parece llevar una energía y fuerza interior imparable.”

El grupo fusiona cualidades selectas de la música Afro-peruana y el jazz de manera muy natural y cuidadosa. El New York Times comentó que “el Sexteto Afroperuano conoce su misión bien y tiene la ejecución perfecta.” Los extremos del jazz y la cultura Afro-peruana se logran conjugar en el espíritu del Sexteto Afroperuano en base a una combinación de personalidades e idiosincrácias únicas entre sus integrantes. En una crítica importante al primer disco la revista Downbeat escribío que “el trompetista peruano Gabriel Alegria promueve el jazz afroperuano. La inovadora línea de bajo en el tema ‘El Norte’ se ve envuelta en el maravilloso toque de las maderas de Freddy ‘Huevito’ Lobatón y Hugo Alcázar.” La revista Latino Magazine describió la música del sexteto de esta manera: “un sonido lleno de rítmica y orquestación que son la definición plena de la felicidad sonora.” El Wall Street Journal por su parte comento que el sonido del grupo representa “una mezcla muy simpática de improvisaciones Norteamericanas y ritmos sudamericanos.”

El apoyo del cual goza el grupo dentro del Perú también es significativo. Para cada gira o evento, “Fans & Voluntarios” del Sexteto se inscriben para apoyar al grupo en producción, ventas, merchandising y llevando el mensaje del Sexteto por todo el Perú. Los medios locales han documentado el proceso del Sexteto desde sus inicios. El diario El Comercio ha publicado importantes comentarios como el siguiente:
“Este disco no solo llama la atención por la altísima calidad de sus cortes, sino por la impresionante selección de músicos invitados que complementan los devaneos rítmicos de la banda. Nuevo Mundo debería marcar el despegue definitivo del jazz afroperuano en las carteleras internacionales.”

El Sexteto de Jazz Afro-peruano trabaja constantemente en el desarrollo de sus proyectos, muchos de ellos inovadores en concepción y ejecución. Proyectos futuros incluyen el próximo Tour Perú y la grabación de su siguiente disco. Para ver próximos conciertos por favor revise nuestro calendario de actividades. Asimismo, las oportunidades para participar activamente de los proyectos del grupo siempre están a la orden del día… basta con mandar un email o visitar al grupo por Facebook.

AP Sextet-Photos Bex Wade-28
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Latest Recording

Biography for the album “10” written by Andy Gilbert

10When it comes to Latin jazz, these are the best of times. The steady flow of stellar Latin American musicians into New York City has created a glorious hothouse of new musical hybrids, and one of the most extravagantly beautiful blooms is trumpeter Gabriel Alegría’s Afro-Peruvian Sextet. The ensemble marks its first productive decade with Ten (Saponegro Records), an insistently inventive program of American and Peruvian standards transformed by Alegría’s highly personal synthesis of folkloric Afro-Peruvian rhythms, jazz, and other musical strains. Ten features a glittering cast of special guests including bass legend Ron Carter, Grammy Award-winning pianist Arturo O’Farrill, Yellowjackets keyboardist Russell Ferrante, and tabla expert and Miles Davis alum Badal Roy, among many others.

“It’s a concept album,” Alegría says. “For our 10th anniversary, we wanted to give special care to American and Peruvian standards. It all comes together in the arrangements in the Afro-Peruvian style. We’ve incorporated many guest artists, people who have helped us along the way. Most importantly, we’ve brought together jazz musicians with eminent Peruvian musicians, and we’re the glue that holds it together.”

Holding any band together for a decade is a signature accomplishment, but for Alegría the feat is truly extraordinary, as half his players are based in Lima and half are in New York City. Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón, a founding member of the sextet, is a master of Afro-Peruvian percussion (and a three-time national Peruvian zapateo dancing champion) who grounds the band in the folkloric textures of the box-like cajón, the cajita, and the quijada (made from the jaw bone of an ass). Drummer Hugo Alcázar, a founding member of the sextet, incorporates the cajón into his drum kit’s polyrhythmic feel, while American-born drummer Shirazette Tinnin gracefully navigates the predominantly 12/8 beats. Alegría shares the front line with tenor saxophonist Laura Andrea Leguía, a tremendously expressive player who helped found the band. Peruvian criollo guitarist Yuri Juárez provides expertly calibrated rhythmic support and telegraphic solos. In New York, bass duties are shared by two veteran masters, Puerto Rican-born John Benitez and Nigerian-American Essiet Essiet.

The band’s patented blend of deep scholarship and playfulness is evident from their treatments of the national anthems included in the enticing program: a dramatic, slow-burning rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which closes the album, and a version of “Himno Nacional del Perú” that sounds like Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra on a lark in Lima (O’Farrill contributes elegant piano work on both tracks). Elsewhere, each piece serves as a statement about the delicate balance required to keep one foot in New York and one foot in Lima.

Juan Tizol’s Ellingtonian classic “Caravan,” set to a sensuous festejo rhythm, serves as a perfect vehicle for Alegría’s vision. Alegría tips his hat to Alex Acuña with his bluesy version of “Birdland,” the Weather Report hit powered by the great Peruvian percussionist. “My Favorite Things,” set to a galloping festejo groove, features bass master Ron Carter, while the trap drum team of Hugo Alcázar and Daniel Susnjar maintain a steady roiling churn on Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” a tune that Alegría decided to include “after hearing stories about Ornette from Badal,” he says. “We needed that free attitude, and the festejo groove works really well.”

One of the album’s more ingenious pieces weaves together the folkloric “Condor Pasa” with Paul Desmond’s Brubeck hit “Take Five,” a surprisingly effective arrangement built upon Peruvian guitarist Milton Mendieta’s deft fretwork on the tune’s introduction and the captivating percussion tandem of Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón on cajita and Hugo Alcázar’s cajón. “Contigo Perú,” a patriotic anthem, offers a similarly intricate puzzle, with a valse feel that moves into a swaying lando groove into jazz and then back to valse. It’s an arrangement that couldn’t have been created or executed by any other band.

In many ways, artistic innovation is Alegría’s birthright. Born (June 11, 1970) and raised in Lima, Alegría hails from Peru’s most illustrious artistic family. His grandfather Ciro Alegría was a journalist, politician, activist, and Peru’s most famous novelist. His father Alonso Alegría is the nation’s most acclaimed playwright. Music was omnipresent in the household while Gabriel was growing up. He’s the first professional player in the family, but he was surrounded by accomplished musicians. Maybe that’s why he chose the trumpet, a horn that gave him enough volume to be heard amidst his family.

Playing in various high school bands, he gravitated to jazz, but the music really caught his interest when a jazz band assignment led him to Miles Davis’s classic recording of “’Round Midnight.” While studying at the National Conservatory in Lima he ended up taking a jazz improvisation workshop with adventurous British pianist Martin Joseph, which introduced him to the jazz continuum through the avant-garde. At the same time, he was picking up Afro-Peruvian music on the streets of Lima, an education he considers as important as the conservatory.

Alegría first moved to the United States to study at Ohio’s Kenyon College, and then pursued a master’s degree in jazz at City College from 1993 to 1995. While overwhelmed by the New York scene, he connected with a cadre of rising Latin American jazz musicians like John Benitez and Cliff Korman “but they were all older by a few years,” Alegria recalls. “I felt really intimidated. I was definitely looking up at those guys.”

Moving back to Peru, he earned a spot in the Lima Philharmonic, a job he held for five years. He continued to play jazz on the side, and started formulating his Afro-Peruvian jazz concept. Eventually, he decided to pursue a doctorate in jazz studies at the University of Southern California, which is where the sextet first came together in 2005. Finding a deep reservoir of support on the Southland jazz scene, he released his debut album Nuevo Mundo in 2008, a project produced by trumpet great Bobby Shew that established the creative framework Alegría continued to develop in New York (where he’s also Professor of Jazz Studies at New York University).

“I loved L.A.,” Alegría says. “The first record the band did was a result of Bobby Shew’s kindness. Russell Ferrante, Bill Watrous, Lisa Harriton, and Tierney Sutton made guest appearances. It was an amazing thing. There’s enough of that laid-back energy that the creativity flows. It’s a very special place for me.”

Alegría relocated to New York in 2007 and made an international mark with his second album, 2010’s Pucusana (Saponegro Records), a critically acclaimed project that introduced the band essentially as it exists today. Hailed for honing a new form of Latin jazz, Alegría was careful to maintain his particular concept. The band performs regularly in Peru, where it’s earned a large following, and is as much part of the scene in Lima as Manhattan.

“New York is a place that’s almost an orgy of people mixing things,” he says. “You have to be careful to present things on their own terms. We work very hard to make sure each of the traditions is employed correctly, really knowing the background before we use it. That helped set the band apart and get attention.”

The sextet released a sensational live album in 2012, Afro-Peruvian Jazz Secrets (El Secreto del Jazz Afroperuano), and most recently delivered a definitive statement with 2013’s Ciudad de Los Reyes (both on Saponegro Records). With Ten, Alegria and his brilliant cast of collaborators take on standards from both worlds and make them their own. There’s a lot of distance to cover between Lima and New York, and Alegría has created a highly flexible framework that allows him to state proudly that “Afro-Peruvian jazz is a real thing, and we are going to continue to push it forward.”