Diablo En Brooklyn (Saponegro Records), the sixth recording by the absolutely incredible Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet, is a thrill ride of international proportions. Fusing jazz and world in a Peruvian cocktail that’s truly strong, it features the premiere of Alegria’s four-part “Brooklyn Suite” as well as a stunning 12:25 interpretation of “Summertime” from the 1935 opera, Porgy & Bess (sounding as if George Gershwin were vacationing in Peru). Recorded entirely in his Lima Peru hometown with his longtime sextet of sax, percussion, bass, drums and acoustic guitar, the synthesis of jazz and Peruvian folk strains make this highly enjoyable project one of the more delectable treats of the jazz year.
Gabriel Alegria, 47, is a trumpeter, composer, bandleader and educator. His father, Alonso Alegria, is a successful playwright and theater director whose Crossing Niagara had been presented in numerous countries before making its stateside debut in 1981. His grandfather, Ciro Alegria (1909-1967) was a novelist, journalist and activist who spent half his life imprisoned in Cuba and Chile due to his political views. Gabriel, born in Lima, attended high school in Ohio, and college in New York City where he studied under Ron Carter at City College before receiving his PhD in Jazz Studies at USC.
The sextet will celebrate the release of Diablo En Brooklyn (where Alegria now resides) Oct. 21 and 22 with special guest, Arturo O’Farrill, and three dancers choreographed by Antonio Vilchez at The Roulette in Brooklyn.
Thrilling to Graham Nash at The Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg Pennsylvania was akin to when I saw CSNY at Woodstock 48 years ago. One main difference between the two sets was that I was quite comfortably ensconced at a ringside seat in PA at age 66 instead of tripping my brains out on the brown acid at age 18. Plus, unlike Woodstock, Nash was perfectly in tune. At 74, he still sings like an angel and the two-part harmony with Shane Fontayne (the man who kickstarted CSN back into genius territory in 2012) was oh-so perfecto.
Twenty-two songs and a bunch of great stories had the Pocono crowd in total thrall. Fontayne was amazing as he supplied incredible guitar flourishes, deep, hard chords, stunning lead rides which, when combined with Nash’s acoustic guitar or piano, rocked as hard as if a rhythm section were on the bandstand with them. But, y’know what? You could hear the drum’n’bass in your head. You didn’t need it. The songs flew by in a kaleidoscopic purple haze of memory, nostalgia, good vibes and jaw-dropping musicianship. Fontayne, who has supplied such finesse for Bruce Springsteen (in the band he formed when he temporarily retired his E-Streeters), Sting and the long-ago and far-away Lone Justice (a band I loved in the ‘80s fronted by the great Maria McKee), is a bubbling cauldron of deep chops.
Nash is an amiable host who dredges up great stories from his past (I highly recommend his auto-biography, Wild Tales: A Rock’n’Roll Life). Since he and Crosby aren’t speaking at the moment, we are all deprived of what would be an astonishing CSN and sometimes Y tour and album. Still, to hear the fragments of my life (“Our House,” “Ohio,” “Chicago,” “Teach Your Children,” “Cathedral,” “Marrakesh Express,” “Just A Song Before I Go,” “To The Last Whale”), complete with Fontayne making his guitar sound like a damn whale, and so many others performed unerringly live is to be grateful for what we do have.
Backstage, holding a glass of red wine, and inviting his guests to do the same, he held court upon the derivation of some of the songs while posing for pictures like country singers do every single night of their tours. My favorite story was the one where he proved that songs can sometimes come from the most innocuous moments of inter-personal conversations. He was recounting when he first fell in love with Joni Mitchell. They were just returning home from a California shopping spree which included a florist stop when, as they were entering her abode, he casually just said, “Hey Joan (he called her Joan), I’ll light the fire. You put the flowers in the vase that you bought today.”