The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet’s “Caras” hit the crowd at the start of Monday night’s second set at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola like an acoustic sandstorm. So blinding was the effect that if there was an eyebrow raised anywhere in the room by the jazz savvy Lincoln Center audience, it was impossible to see. And so the set went, one of the best I have seen from this avid and honorable band, leaving me scrambling for new metaphors and similes to describe their work.
There was the way that Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón Beltrán, the percussionist, would capture a song with the complexity of his rhythms, then somehow, with a few simple strikes on the cajón, release to the rest of the band the music that he had momentarily sequestered. There was the maddened tease of the drummer, Shirazette Tinnin, the almost blows to which her instruments came, right before the structured cacophony of her drumsticks. There was Alegria himself, stretching out notes like taffy between the mouth of his trumpet and the plunger. There was the double bassist Nimrod Speaks, a relative newcomer to the band, leaning over his instrument like a dancer taking his partner to a passionate dip. There was Yuri Juárez, establishing with the tone and tenor of his guitar an alternative landscape, that one imagined to be Peruvian, to the Central Park vista framed by the glass backdrop of Dizzy’s 6th floor stage. And as always there was Laura Andrea Leguia, on the saxophone, her notes shimmering like polished nails, adding to and sending back to her bandmates a dynamism that might otherwise have perturbed the ether for a moment and diffused.
The second set audience clamored for more, which was joyously delivered. This was in some contrast to the first set, which began with the band’s version of Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a tune so familiar as to provoke an attitude of dispassionate analysis on the part of a clientele famously knowledgeable about traditional jazz. It took a while to win them over, but the stunning best was yet to come. I am not sure even now that the second set audience knew what hit them.