Peru isn’t the first place you’d associate with jazz, never mind soundtracks. Don’t hold that against it, though. As last year’s Roots of Chicha, not to mention Vampi Soul’s Back To Peru comp, proved, there was more going on in the Andes in the ‘60s and ‘70s than Machu Picchu and military coups. And as musical director of Peru’s premier record label, Sono Radio, pianist/bandleader/composer Jaime Delgado Aparicio was at the centre of a fair bit of it. A kind of Peruvian Quincy Jones, Aparicio straddled the worlds of jazz, classical, film, TV and A&R, signing up Latin rock band Black Sugar, and founding his own Orquesta Contemporánea, a de facto talent factory most famous for an eponmyous 1976 live album. It’s not unusual to see snippets of Aparicio stuff turning up on compilations, but unprecedented to see a wholesale reissue, even it was written for a film which no one, at least outside of Peru, has ever seen, or is ever likely to see. But then those are often the best soundtracks, and this is no exception.
It dates back a decade earlier than Aparicio’s Orquesta zenith, to 1966, but the big band heard here – a 50-piece plus, according to the rather rambling liner notes – swings like it’s been chewing coca leaves for breakfast. As a contrast to the bonus trio material making up the album’s final third, it couldn’t be greater, yet, with typical Latin laissez faire, the whole thing flows as smoothly as a finely calibrated DJ set, taking in elements of Andean folk, ‘60s pop and tinsel town espionage-cum-slapstick. Which isn’t to say it’s the kind of syncretic smorgasbord championed by the chicha brigade, rather a playful and intelligent spin on ‘50s/‘60s cinema’s love affair with jazz. Dynamism, then, is key, and Aparicio isn’t found wanting, flaunting a feel for tension and release he’d take right through to his disco-influenced work of the mid-‘70s. It’s obvious in the white knuckle ride of a title theme, a hair-raising switchback from qualified foreplay to swaggering intent. Though still only in his early 20s at the time, Aparicio marshalls cadres of reeds and horns with the command of a big-band veteran, pulling them ever tighter, inwards and upwards in a thundering, multi-layered pincer movement.
El Embajador y Yo
US: Available as import
UK: 28 May 2007
From there he sidewinds into steaming soul jazz, pounding away at piano chords on a definition of “surf” which has nothing to do with guitars (those looking for a chicha hit might be disappointed), and everything to do with Blue Note and Atlantic. That he can then fade into the Andean baroque of “Llegando a la Capital”, for what sounds like solo oboe, and almost get away with it has to be impressive, an offbeat balancing act his north-south training (including a stint at Berklee) obviously stood him in good stead for. Nor does he flinch at outright experimentation, moulding some drowning-in-aspic psyche-paranoia into the intro and outro of “Todo el Mundo Me Persigue”, itself a hammond-led variation of the main theme reminiscent of Jimmy Smith’s big band work. It’s the obligatory girly bossa nova, though, sung by late Peruvian actress Patricia Aspillaga, which provides the template for the score’s standout cue: in terms of sheer class, Aparicio surpasses himself on “La Araña”, a beautifully pitched, instrumental lounge take on the Aspillaga theme, conducted at a pace conducive to long afternoons doing not very much at all, presumably in an ambassadorial posting to the middle of nowhere.
It’s an elegant, unpredictable ride, spilling over with ideas and enery, sometimes getting ahead of itself but usually pulling itself back just as quickly. More extensive use of Andean idioms would have been interesting, but then that presumably wasn’t really the object of the exercise. And it’s a minor quibble, especially when there’s an extra five tracks of Aparicio’s Keith Jarrett/Duke Ellington-influenced trio work, originally released as his eponmyous 1964 debut. It’s testament to the man’s talent for continuity that a bossa-adapted cover of Horace Silver’s “Sayonara Blues” sounds like a completely natural chaser to the billowing orchestrations of the closing theme-if you don’t read the small print, you could easily read the bonus tracks as a thematic adjunt to the main soundtrack, especially when you hear the crashing chords and four-to-the-floor rhythm of “Walkin’”. Blazing through it all is a sense of Aparicio’s precociousness, a confidence and right-hand fluency beyond his years. Listen to him strut, glide and extemporise his way through the Jacques Prévert/Joseph Kosma standard “Las Hojas Muerta”, and you begin to understand why he remains, some two and a half decades after his death, Peru’s most fondly remembered jazz musician.