Monday, September 26, 2011

Music Album Review: Johnny Alegre’s Humanfolk

They say that Jazz music originated in the US by African slaves who worked in the fields and rail road constructions many years ago as an expression of their emotions or, should I say, lamentations of their fate and suppressed conditions. Over the years, the so called “mainstream” jazz music has evolved into various “branches” such as soul-jazz, bebop or hard bop, rhythm and blues, and swing. Later on, there came Samba, Bossa Nova and Fusion. Much newer ones emerged in the last two decades which became very popular, and these are Nippon Jazz, New Age and Acid.

As many jazz musicians have grown virtuoso in their musical craft, so did jazz evolved in many eccentric forms, distinctly identified with a particular country of origin. If the Americans have their forms, Brazil has the Bossa Nova, and even Japan has its Nippon jazz, why can’t there be Filipino Jazz?

In the Philippines, as we truly believe is rich in cultural heritage and that Filipinos are noted to be the minstrels of Asia as proven by a long track record of world renowned artists, it is only proper and high-time that another branch of jazz should emerge which is distinctly Filipino.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to watch the concert of local jazz icon Mr. Boy Katindig who is now making a big buzz among jazz aficionados in the international scene. Among the sessionists who backed him up is the prolific jazz guitar player Mr. Johnny Alegre whom I met earlier before the show. After the concert, Mr. Alegre generously gave me a copy of his Humanfolk Music CD which he wanted to promote. After listening to it for the very first time, I instantly came to a revelation -- THIS IS IT! If there would be a jazz style that can be considered to be distinctly Filipino, this is the one, a Maharlikan Jazz!

Among Johnny Alegre’s musical creations, Humanfolk is considered to be his most priceless achievement. Humanfolk is a collection of pieces played by Pinoy musicians who are popularly noted for their indigenous styles using local tribal instruments like the kulintang, bungkaka, agung, gangsa, and tongatong which are rendered mostly in a complex syncopated tempo. As it is, listening to these instruments is very enchanting and inspires a deep sense of cultural roots.

The Humanfolk ensemble is composed of Johnny Alegre, Susie Ibarra, Malek Lopez, Cythia Alexander, Roberto Juan Rodriguez and Abby Clutario. Each of them has unique, divergent musical skills that is purely Pinoy in every level. The CD is a compilation of 11 tracks, including a radio-shortened version of Para sa Tao which is one of my favorites because it is actually a rendition of a simple Filipino nursery alphabet song creatively arranged in an eclectic rhythm, round song-like music.

Another cut which I can’t get enough of listening to is Humanfolk – 1. It is a bouncy, upbeat song with no recognizable words, just relax scatting in a fun jazzy melody, and the sound of the acoustic guitar fits the indigenous instruments perfectly. Other selections are solo percussion playing which is run down of indigenous instruments sounds.

Humanfolk is definitely a reflection of a strong Filipino cultural and musical heritage. I just hope that more local jazz artists would emerge and follow this particular stream that is uniquely Pinoy and may Humanfolk be a catalyst for more musical innovations that will help us regain the culture and the arts that define us. Incorporating a kulintang instrument to a Dizzy Gillespy’s jazz style or an angklung to a laid-back bossa nova melody, for me, can be an entirely new jazz style … a Maharlikan jazz one. 

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