Friday, March 6, 2015

Los Jaivas - 1981 - Alturas De Macchu Picchu

Los Jaivas 
Alturas De Macchu Picchu

01. Del aire al aire
02. La poderosa muerte
03. Amor americano
04. Aguila sideral
05. Antigua America
06. Sube a nacer conmigo hermano
07. Final

- Gato Alquinta / lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, cuarto, zampoña, quena, ocarina
- Mario Mutis / bass, electric guitar, zampoña, quena, vocals
- Eduardo Parra / electric piano, Mini-Moog, tarka
- Claudio Parra / grand and electric piano, mini-Moog, harpsichord
- Gabriel Parra / drums, percussion, xylophone, trutrucas, tarka, vocals

Guest musicians:
- Alberto Ledo / all instruments (1)
- Patricio Castillo / quena (4), tarka (5)

For all the spectacular achievements of Los Jaivas, it is widely accepted that it is Alturas De Macchu Picchu on which the group reached its peak (although I think I just about prefer the double album Obras De Violeta Parra). Certainly it is this album on which its international reputation was established. Based on selected texts of the poet Pablo Neruda, this brilliant work was crafted when the band was in exile in France. At various times during the course of this album, the band's fusion of its Andean influences and "conventional" prog-rock abilities is flawless.

Del Aire Al Aire helps provide the majestic ambience, but the album's real opening statement is of course La Poderosa Muerte. Slow-building, like many of their best pieces (notably Cancion Del Sur from the previous album), it sees a gradual establishment of Andean flutes, a haunting vocal melody from Alquinto (with deliciously pained harmony). The entry of Gabriel Parra's superbly inventive drums, the fuzzy synthesizer work, a swirl of sci-fi inspired Moogs, the energetic emergence of the electric guitar, traditional chants with clever piano backing that eventually leads into another beautiful vocal segment from Alquinta, a brief brass symphony ... this composition has so many elements. This really is music of the ages, a timeless piece in which the musical journey is natural and flawless.

Thankfully the masterpiece keeps unfolding. Amor Americano is playful and relies more on vocals although the strident guitar (double-tracked with synths) is also important, particularly during the gorgeous solo passages. This song echoes earlier Los Jaivas folk material, but uses the instruments of Western rock, not native Andrean folk. Then there's the phased vocals of the eerie compelling masterpiece Aguila Sideral, which layers piano, guitar and then pan-pipes over an unobtrusive rhythm, in a truly unforgettable manner.

As for Antigua America, Claudio Parra's piano playing (I believe it is he, even if brother Eduardo is the other keyboardist) is simply stunning and Gabriel's drumming is also extremely creative. When the band is in full flight with dancing guitar and piano lines, it is thing of pure beauty. The exuberant Latin brass theme of Sube A Nacer Conmigo Hermano also bristles with life, and although this sort of music is nowadays the purvue of acts like The Gypsy Kings, Los Jaivas' arrangements are excellent. The violent power of the vocals always takes surprise me when I return to this album. Final is just that ... a tantalising soliloquoy over rippling piano lines ... an irresistibly melancholic piece of music.

Alturas De Macchu Picchu is deeply emotional, steeped in legend and history, a seamless fusion of what was then past and present

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