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Reviews/Music

Jazz fusion a fabulous festejo

20 September 2021

A melting pot of musical traditions are celebrated in a live recording project at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, says Garry Lee.

“Peruano Canta: Live Recording”, WA Academy of Performing Arts ·
The Edith Spiegeltent, 17 September 2021 ·

In Spanish festejo means “celebration” but in Peru it also has another meaning. Festejo is a dance that celebrates the emancipation of slaves in Peru in 1854 (11 years before the American Civil War saw the abolition of slavery in the US). Spanish music, as well as language, changed as the colonialist folk traditions melded with the rhythms of Western Africa plus the indigenous music and instruments of native South Americans.

This intoxicating hybrid has also fused with jazz music, as was on display on Friday in a concert performed by WAAPA’s Afro-Peruvian Ensemble and Jazz Vocal Ensemble

Just as Bela Bartok mined the folk music of Hungary for inspiration in his composition, musicians like Perth composer and drummer Daniel Susnjar and WAAPA’s Jazz Vocal Lecturer Victoria Newton are continuing this tradition a century later.

Susnjar is a graduate from WAAPA and the University of Miami. During his time in the US he was inspired by the concept of fusing Afro-Peruvian music with jazz and to that end he has established a highly successful ensemble of some of Perth’s finest musicians performing this music as well as leading the WAAPA Afro-Peruvian Ensemble.

Newton is similarly passionate about Latin music, especially from Brazil, so these two colleagues are ideal to inspire the current WAAPA students to create a night of polyrhythms and sophisticated vocal harmonies. It would be surprising if anything of similar musical complexity and magnitude has been attempted previously anywhere in Australia.

There are six compositions composed by Susnjar and the entire ensemble display a thoroughly rehearsed commitment to the project. 16 vocalists are led by Newton, and Susnjar leads from drums an ensemble of guitar, piano, bass and five percussionists plus three horns and violin. Susnjar directs with powerful virtuosity and the ensemble provides a contrasting sound that ranges between a roar and a whisper.

There are some outstanding jazz solos from Oliver Taylor (tenor saxophone) on “Lift Your Voice”, Bryn Larkin (guitar) on “Trust the Process” and Jackson Van Ballegooyen (piano) on “Here’s to Life”. The instrumental, “Onwards and Upwards” features the violin of Daniel Drieberg and a virtuosic electric bass solo by Tommi Flamenco. Amy Wright takes lead vocals on “There Is Always Hope” and “Familia” provides opportunity for Taylor, James Chapman (trumpet) and Will Pethic (trombone) to trade solo ideas in the time-honoured jazz tradition. At various times the percussion section is featured and it is appropriate to hear two percussionists play on the cajon – an authentic Peruvian box-shaped instrument. Their duel could have been louder on what was otherwise an excellent sound mix.

The concert was an outstanding success and congratulations must be accorded to all involved, especially Susnjar and Newton whose leadership and musicality must surely be an inspiration to the students they teach. The concert was livestreamed and will be released soon as an album.

This performance will be remounted at the Perth International Jazz Festival on 6 November.

Pictured top: The WAAPA Afro-Peruvian Ensemble and Jazz Vocal Ensemble. Photo: Kathy Wheatley

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Author —
Garry Lee

Garry Lee has played jazz vibraphone and guitar for over 50 years. He was a founding jazz teacher at WAAPA has also been a jazz writer, jazz composer/leader, Churchill Fellow and artistic director. Born in Essex soon after WW2, his favourite playground equipment was dismantled tanks and cannons.

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