Album of the Day: Chocolate, “Peru’s Master Percussionist”

Learning that an artist named Chocolate recorded music in Las Vegas back in 1990, one would assume the recordings contained big-band swing, cosmic funk, or some other style that would play well in classic downtown Vegas. But this musical odyssey to Sin City was made by Julio “Chocolate” Algendones, the brilliant percussionist and star of Afro-Peruvian music, who passed away in 2004. Mostly recorded during a trip to the U.S. with his group Perujazz, Algendones’s Peru’s Master Percussionist (Perspective on Afro​-​Peruvian Music. The Collection) connects festejo rhythms—a festive form of Afro-Peruvian music—with the traditional Yoruba sounds of Western Africa and spiritual patterns of the Santeria religion.

The arrangements are minimalist to the point of being austere as Algendones uses only a few time-honored percussion instruments—congas, kalimbas, seeds, and cajón—to build his textured orchestration. This unfurnished approach might take time for newcomers to fully appreciate, but the rhythmic play on the 14-minute “Conga Forte, Rico Cajón” rewards patience. You can feel Chocolate’s hands rap the rawhide skin as this soothing piece evokes imaginary ritual ceremonies.

Closer “Un Tych” invites cameos from Perujazz members Manongo Mujica (drums, bowed cymbal), David Pinto (bass), and Jean Pierre Magnet (saxophone)—Magnet’s sax appears over the last few seconds of the track, putting a dramatic closure to the record. But this is Chocolate’s world. Peru’s Master Percussionist, now reissued by Buh Records, is an expert concoction of indigenous beats and patterns that encapsulates its creator’s dedication to his form.

-Dean Van Nguyen

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