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Corina Bartra & Her Azu Project: Afro-Peruvian Jazz Celebration

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Corina Bartra does more than compose and sing in a style that merges music from North and South America—she lives this style by splitting her days between her native Peru and adopted hometown of New York City. Celebration, her fifth release, blends traditional Afro-Peruvian music with contemporary vocal and instrumental jazz, a fusion brought to life by her band of all-stars from both Peru and NYC. You cannot tell which passages are composed and which are improvised. Neither can you tell, except for the obvious folk songs, the Afro-Peruvian parts from the jazz parts. It's mostly one sprawling, ambitious, joyful Celebration.

Bartra's original "You Took Me By Surprise" exemplifies her cultural cocktail: it's full of surprising twists and turns based in the rhythmic innovations of be-bop. This is especially true in its central passage, where Bartra opens the melodic window and encourages saxophonist Xavier Perez to sail up and away; yet this rhythm continually flows thick and hot in the lusty spirit of Latin music. The moody and blue "Puente de los Suspiros" radiates a different fusion mood by synthesizing Latin rhythm and breathy, Stan Getz-like jazz saxophone.

Bandleader Bartra also remembers to honor traditional native music. The Afro-Peruvian folk song "Chacombo" radiates with the tribal spirit of communal creation, full of celebratory chants and exhortations, and she knits together several other traditional melodies into a compiled "Afro-Peruvian Folk Song" that receives a stellar jazz reading from pianist Cliff Korman and the rhythm section.

Meanwhile, Bartra honors two familiar standards with unique new treatments. She offers one of the freest versions of "Stella by Starlight" that you'll ever hear. As the music ebbs and flows—with drummer Vince Cherico spiraling out, then pulling in, ripples of rhythm—it sometimes seems to disconnect completely from her vocal. The singer subsequently wrings every ounce of energy and emotion out of "You Don't Know What Love Is." Her hurting delivery of lines like "you don't know how hearts burn/for love that cannot live but never dies" leaves no doubt that Bartra knows the meaning of the blues.

This set culminates with "Yambambo," so intense it almost melts into liquid heat. The volcanic eruption of percussion, flute solos and vocal chanting help make Afro-Peruvian Jazz Celebration genuinely worthy of such a title.


Track Listing: La Flor De La Canela; Chacombo; You Took Me By Surprise; Stella by Starlight; Toro Mata; Cameron; No Valentine; A Saca Camote Con El Pie; You Don't Know What Love Is; Afro Peruvian Folk Song; Puente De Los Suspiros; Yambambo; I Won't Regret a Moment.

Personnel: Corina Bartra: vocals; Cliff Korman: piano; Vince Cherico: drums; Perico Diaz: cajon, percussion; Xavier Perez: saxophone; Motto Fukushima: bass; Andres Prado: guitar; Alonso Acosta: piano; Oscar Torres: drums; Abel Garcia: saxophone; Eduardo Freire: bass; Dante Oliveros: cajon; Tino Derado: piano; Peter Brainin: saxophone; Oscar Stagnaro: bass; Fred Berrybill: percussion; Jay Rodriguez: saxophone; David Hertzberg: bass.

Title: Afro-Peruvian Jazz Celebration | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Blue Spiral Music

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