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Alfonso Lovo - La Gigantona

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Artist: Alfonso Lovo

Album: La Gigantona

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Sep. 21, 2012

Alfonso Lovo is an obscure Nicaraguan-born guitarist of yesteryear whose now extant corpus consists of Latin jazz flavored with a healthy dose of psychedelia. As is documented in The Numero Group’s CD reissue of his hitherto all but lost 1976 opus La Gigantona, Lovo’s life and his tenure as a hobbyist musician with professional talent have both been affected in ways large and small by the political turmoil his native country has seen in his lifetime. The son of a well-to-do member of Nicaragua’s political elite, a 20-year-old Lovo was shot by dissidents who had hijacked an airplane on which he was a passenger. Lovo eventually attended college at the Georgia Institute of Technology and, later, when the Sandanistas took power in Nicaragua, Lovo settled in the United States. A few clever Reagan-era conservatives attempted to co-opt Lovo’s sometimes political music as propaganda for their foreign policy agenda, but had it not been for The Numero Group’s hand, La Gigantona would have remained the musical addendum to a bit of marginal (if fascinating) history.

Fortunately, that counterfactual state of affairs was not to be, and the unbridled experimental energy of La Gigantona is now available for fans of virtuosic guitar, Latin jazz and psychedelic rock to appreciate in equal measure. Though its effects-heavy instrumental tracks swirl about and cross one another in single songs, making for sparks both dazzling and dizzying, the genre-hopping sound of Lovo and his crew is remarkably coherent. Swaggering atop bass heavy grooves of funk and jazz, Lovo, timbales drummer Jose “Chepito” Areas, and their fellow players perform an almost exclusively instrumental set that showcases both their chops and their ability to keep their densely interwoven solos from becoming self-indulgent parts that betray the whole. That’s no small accomplishment, given the many strands that run through La Gigantona.

The album’s less adventurous, more familiar sounding material is compelling in its own right. Opener “Nueva Segovia,” for instance, begins with sensual arpeggio strums and builds to what sounds like a fury of wristwork on the nylon strings of a Spanish guitar. On the other hand, while the memorable horn loops out in front of the Latin keyboard on “Los Conquistadores” could have been plucked from any of a host of canonical salsa recordings from the late 1960s or early ’70s, such cuts would have been pioneering syntheses in their day, and remain arresting in ours.

Still, it’s the stranger moments that give La Gigantona its distinctive color and charm. Topping eight minutes, “La Bomba de Neutrón” begins with a deep, sultry groove of the kind Serge Gainsbourg mastered. Then, about two minutes in, it conjures Sun Ra by taking on board the echoed voiceover of what sounds like a traveller from outer space. Similarly entertaining is the nearly 10-minute excursion, “Sinfonía del Espacio en Do Menor,” which lays more extraterrestrial effects onto searing solos for trumpet, clarinet and a host of other instruments. Numbers such as these make La Gigantona another special release from a reissue label that has long made them a habit.

By Benjamin Ewing

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