The Afro-Peruvian Sextet
“The Afro-Peruvian Sextet is writing a new chapter in the history of Latin jazz.”
– Doug Ramsey, Rifftides
The Afro-Peruvian Sextet was established in 2005. The ensemble’s insistently inventive program of traditional Afro-Peruvian music transformed by Gabriel Alegría’s highly personal synthesis of folkloric Afro-Peruvian rhythms, jazz, and other musical strains has led to a signature accomplishment: developing the band’s patented blend of deep scholarship and playfulness into a touring experience that conveys a vast knowledge of the music and, perhaps more importantly, transmits black music from coastal Perú as a way of life to its audiences.
Each member of the Sextet is not only a master musician but also a dedicated and experienced educator. During more than ten years on the road together, the mission of the band has incessantly been to spread the joy and love of Afro-Peruvian music around the world. This has happened both on the stage and through workshops, master classes, after-hour hangs and even cooking (as food and music are inseparable in Afro-Peruvian musical culture, the band is never shy to demonstrate!) As trumpet master Bobby Shew once commented “hanging out with these people is a chapter in your life!”
The Afro-Peruvian Sextet has produced five CDs, one DVD and one vinyl record to date. Their audiences come from all over the globe and include a legion of dedicated fans who work directly with the band on various projects including concert promotion, merchandise sales and most notably, Tour Perú, an innovative concept by which fans of the band literally join the musicians on the road in Perú once per year. With home bases in Lima and New York City, the band has been embraced by both cities. In 2015 Hot House Magazine awarded the band New York City’s “Best Ensemble of the Year” award and the New York City Jazz Record “Best Latin Jazz Album.”
The band has successfully developed and consolidated a thriving “scene” around Afro-Peruvian jazz music. The Latin Jazz Network described the band in this way: “Every once in a while there comes a musician who, when playing his or her chosen instrument, seems to carry within a vital life-force that is irrepressible.”
Amidst the Afro-Peruvian Sextet’s detailed fusion of Afro-Peruvian rhythms and jazz harmonies, lies a very demanding, authentic and honest interpretation. The New York Times writes “the Sextet knows its mission well and has the execution down to a science.” “Peruvian trumpeter Gabriel Alegría champions Afro-Peruvian music,” wrote Downbeat Magazine in a prominent review, “the hip asymmetrical bass line of Alegría’s El Norte is goaded by wonderful hand percussion and stickmanship on cajita from Hugo Alcázar and Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón.” Latino Magazine described the music as “rhythm-saturated, orchestrally-enticing performances that are the definition of sonic joy” while the Wall Stree Journal echoed with “a highly sympatico blend of North American improv and South American beats.”
Support for the band in their native Perú is also significant. Dedicated “Fans & Voluntarios” sign up on each of the band’s tours to work shows, sell merchandise and participate in the band’s social outreach missions. Local media and press have followed and documented the development of the band. The country’s most important newspaper, El Comercio describes the Afro-Peruvian Sextet as “the catalyst that marks the start of Afro-Peruvian jazz music’s flight to the international stage.”
The Sextet is busy working towards future projects that include the next Tour Perú, and launching another recording project. Current performances are listed on our tour calendar. Opportunities for fan participation abound so drop the band a line or join us on Facebook.
Biography for the album “10” written by Andy Gilbert
When 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.”