Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet Celebrates 10th Anniversary with 5th CD, "10," to Be Released by ZOHO Music August 7

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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 Alegria's Afro-Peruvian Sextet. The ensemble marks its first productive decade with "10," an inventive program of American and Peruvian standards transformed by Alegria's highly personal synthesis of folkloric Afro-Peruvian rhythms, jazz, and other musical strains.

"10," the 10th-anniversary CD by Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet.

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.

A decade of musical innovation by Gabriel Alegría’s Afro-Peruvian Sextet is something to celebrate, and the ensemble marks this anniversary in glorious style with the release of "10," due for release August 7 by ZOHO Music. The program on the band’s 5th CD is richly infused with Alegría’s trademark synthesis of folkloric Afro-Peruvian rhythms, jazz, and other musical strains.

“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.”

The band’s unique blend of deep scholarship and playfulness is evident throughout, with each piece serving as a statement about the delicate balance required to keep one foot in New York and one in Lima: “My Favorite Things,” Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” and Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” set to a sensuous festejo rhythm; Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland” performed as a tribute to the great Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuña, formerly of Weather Report; ingenious renditions of the American and Peruvian national anthems.

Guests including bass legend Ron Carter, Grammy Award-winning pianist Arturo O’Farrill, Yellowjackets keyboardist Russell Ferrante, and tabla expert and Miles Davis alumnus Badal Roy augment the sextet, half of whose players are based in Alegría’s native Lima and half in New York City, where he is a Professor of Jazz Studies at New York University.

Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón, a founding member of the sextet, is a master of Afro-Peruvian percussion 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, also a founding member, 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.

Born (1970) and raised in Lima, Perú, Gabriel Alegría has divided his time between Perú and the United States throughout his life. He attended high school in Gambier, Ohio, where his famous playwright father, Alonso Alegría, was a visiting professor at Kenyon College at the time. Playing an arrangement of “’Round Midnight” in his high school band led him to purchase a Miles Davis recording of the tune. The difference between the chart he was playing and the way Davis played it was a revelation to the 16-year-old trumpeter. The realization that “You can do your own thing with something and create your own ideas and identity” would help him years later in merging the Afro-Peruvian sounds of his homeland with American jazz music.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree at Kenyon, Alegría enrolled at City College of New York and earned an M.A. under the tutelage of Ron Carter. He then returned to Perú for seven years, five of them spent in the trumpet section of the Lima Philharmonic while moonlighting as a jazz and rock musician around the capital city. He relocated to Los Angeles and spent four and a half years at the University of Southern California, where the Afro-Peruvian Sextet first came together in 2005. While at USC (he earned his doctorate in 2007), Alegría studied, worked, toured, and recorded with his mentor Bobby Shew, vocalist Tierney Sutton, trombonist Bill Watrous, and keyboardist/composer Russell Ferrante—all of whom contributed to the sextet’s debut CD, "Nuevo Mundo" (Saponegro Records, 2008).

The band released three more albums on Saponegro—"Pucusana" (2010), "El Secreto del Jazz Afroperuano" (2012), and "Ciudad de Los Reyes" (2013)— in its crusade “to spread Afro-Peruvian jazz music to the world,” says the trumpeter.

“New York is a place that’s almost an orgy of people mixing things,” Alegría 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.”

As part of their anniversary festivities, Gabriel Alegría and his Afro-Peruvian Sextet will be in residence at New York’s Zinc Bar this fall, performing on two Thursday nights each month beginning in August, through December (8/17, 8/20; 9/10, 9/17; 10/8, 10/15; 11/12, 11/19; 12/10, 12/17). Additional appearances—in New York, Lima, and beyond—will be announced soon.

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Terri Hinte