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Phisqa: Pachamama


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Phisqa: Pachamama
Time has marched on since the eponymous debut of Phisqa, (Self-Produced, 2013), the band led by Peruvian drummer Cote Calmet. Then based in Dublin, Calmet placed the multinational quintet under wraps when his CEO Experiment—initially a trio, co-founded with Leopoldo Osio and Peter Erdei—started to take off. A promising debut recording, which also featured the great Irish tenor saxophonist Michael Buckley, and a memorable collaboration with Kurt Rosenwinkel, established the band as one of the front runners on the Dublin jazz scene. In 2018, however, Calmet relocated to Granada, Spain, where he relaunched Phisqa, albeit with an entirely new line-up.

Though Pachamama (Mother Earth, in the Quecha language of the Incas) maintains the original concept behind Phisqa, with Calmet basing his melodically strong, contemporary jazz compositions on Peruvian/Afro-Peruvian rhythms, there are significant modifications. Where Phisqa 1.0 featured just one saxophonist in multi-reedist Chris Engel, Phisqa 2.0 boasts three horns. And there is no room for piano this time around. The Spanish incarnation of Phisqa is a more groove-based unit, with guitarist Mario Alonso playing a primarily rhythmic role. And where Dublin-era Phisqa saw Calmet delve into Andean rhythms and those of African origin from Peru's coastal region, the drummer leads the Granada version of Phisqa further afield into the country's selva, or jungle rhythms. And potent stuff it is too.

"Guacamayo" opens the album in blistering fashion. Calmet's propulsive stickwork, based on the energetic festejo rhythm, lays the foundation for punchy horn riffs and freewheeling solos from soprano saxophonist Miguel de Gemma and tenor saxophonist Carlos Ligero. Whereas de Gemma is perhaps more of a modernist at heart, Ligero revels in an old-school sound reminiscent of Dexter Gordon and, in his breathy intonation on the serene "Lullaby for Nicomedes," Ben Webster. Dedicated to Nicomedes Santa Cruz, the Peruvian singer and ethnomusicologist who did much to revive Afro-Peruvian culture in the 1950s and '60s, the simple panalivio rhythm of this tune lends itself well to Calmet's warm, nostalgic arrangement for the horns.

The album's other panalivio-based composition, "Colibri," is a subtly hypnotic affair. Alejandro Tamayo's softly voiced electric bass, Alonso's dreamy guitar mantra and the leader's light touch on mallets cast a trance-like spell that frames trumpeter/flugelhornist Alberto Martín's lyrical solo. Calmet pays homage to the spectacular Andean city of Cusco and the region's healing cocoa plant on the handsome "Chaqcha"—featuring another fine solo from Ligero—and channels the energy and contrasting traditions of the capital city on "Lima La Gris." On the latter, telling contributions come from guest musicians Luke Dunford on synthesizer and guitarist Gon Navarro but it is the feisty exchange between de Gemma and Calmet that gets the juices flowing.

Transposing Peruvian cajon rhythms to the drum set is key to Calmet's rhythmic concept. But this is a jazz drummer who grew up idolizing Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, so it's little wonder that power as well as swing color his effusive polyrhythms. Only on "Moche" does Calmet actually play cajon. On this heady percussion vignette, with its hint of flamenco undertones, Calmet fuses cow bells and quijada (donkey's jawbone) to intoxicating effect, while interwoven unison riffs surge towards a thrilling finale.

Martin and Alonso step up on the driving festejo "Suspension." Tamayo, on acoustic bass, and de Gemma take their turn in the spotlight on the zamacueca-fused "Shipiba," which is based on a shamanic chant, while the leader struts his stuff with a tumultuous drum solo on "Foli," an exuberant potpourri of pan-global rhythms. Yet for all the individual fire, Phisqa's real heat resides in its dense yet inviting rhythmic layers. Nowhere is this more strongly felt than on "Manu," a booty- shaking cumbia psicodelica whose infectious grooves belong on the dancefloor.

Effectively another Phisqa debut, Pachamama ups the ante in terms of energy and rhythmic muscle. There is much to admire in Calmet's arrangements, which encourage individual expression without diminishing the all-important grooves. An intoxicating, pulsating ride that Nicomedes Santa Cruz would surely approve of.

Track Listing

Guacamayos; Chaqcha; Colibrì; Lima La Gris; Lullaby for Nicomedes; Suspensión; Moche; Shipiba; Foli; Manu.


Miguel de Gemma
saxophone, soprano
Mario Alonso
saxophone, alto
Alejandro Tamayo
bass, acoustic
Carlos Ligero
saxophone, tenor
Additional Instrumentation

Cote Calmet: percussion; Sergio Albacete: baritone saxophone (1); Luke Dunford: synthesizers (4); Zeke Olmo: percussion (10); Jesús Santaigo: percussion (10); Gon Navarro: guitar (4), backing vocals (10); Tommy Moore: backing vocals (10); Alberto Martín: flugelhorn; Alejandro Tamayo: electric bass.

Album information

Title: Pachamama | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Odradek Records



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