And now for something completely different.
The 2018-19 concert season began not with the usual (the Bob Cole Orchestra, or perhaps the Long Beach Symphony), but with the decidedly offbeat Afro-Peruvian Jazz Orchestra the other day at Los Altos United Methodist Church.
This was not only the first concert of the season, but the inaugural event in this year’s LAUMC Fine Arts Concert Series. The church is developing a reputation as a congenial and affordable performance venue for East Long Beach, with ample parking and excellent acoustics, and the series features performances by ensembles from the Bob Cole Conservatory, the Southern California Brass Consortium, and the church’s own programs.
Someone in the church knew someone in the Afro-Peruvian group, and this event was scheduled to kick off the series. This ensemble was a smaller representative of the larger orchestra, which usually numbers around 20 players.
So we had two saxophones, lots and lots of percussion, keyboard and a rhythm section consisting of guitar, acoustic bass and drums. It was a loud and lively afternoon.
The group is led by the saxophonists, Lorenzo Ferrero and Anibal Seminario. The two met in their teens; both played clarinet in Peru’s National Symphony Orchestra. Since then they have come to the U.S., and established this orchestra, which draws on the country’s rich cultural traditions for its repertoire. Ferrero and Seminario do the composing and arranging, so the programs consist of original material, traditional tunes, and the occasional jazz standard.
From the beginning, the tone of the afternoon was set by soulful unaccompanied solos by both players. They then jammed a bit, and then the group swung into action. By action I mean the aforementioned percussion took over, consisting of cajon, congas, bongos and the set drummer. It’s primarily the rhythms that give Afro-Peruvian music its unique flavor. Africans came to Peru, shall we say, involuntarily, but they made substantial contributions not only in music but the overall culture.
It wasn’t just the percussion. I don’t want to slight the amazing bass player, the excellent guitarist and keyboardist, or especially the two saxophone soloists. Whether on soprano, alto or tenor, the two guys sang out, dazzled, and thrilled. It wasn’t all pyrotechnical wizardry, either, although there was plenty of that; both showed themselves capable of tender expression and extreme tastefulness.
Churches play an important role in Long Beach’s musical life, as auxiliary performance venues. Some have extraordinary acoustics, parking is free, and the programs are usually audience-friendly. The ones that come to mind are Grace First Presbyterian, California Heights Methodist, the Unitarian Universalists, and St. Luke’s Episcopal downtown; I’m sure there are more.
Add Los Altos Methodist to the list; their concert series is off to an impressive start, and so is Long Beach’s 2018-19 concert season.