Alter Huevo

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"Tetascotch," the first track on Alter Huevo, Argentine quintet Cucamonga's 2012 AltrOck label debut, begins with a bit of circusy zaniness, a cartoon-ish fanfare with accordion, marimba, toy keyboard voicings, goofy vocal interjections, and stop-and-start rhythms, but the band gets more serious in just over a minute. Cucamonga are similarly crazy later in the disc -- as soon as the very next track, "El Dengue de la Laguna," actually. But when the "Tetascotch" intro segues into modern creative jazz-rock, it becomes apparent that this quintet expertly balances humor with seriousness in true Zappa-esque fashion. Mauricio Bernal's electric piano introduces jazz harmonics into the mix, Bruno Rosado's tenor sax mirrors Oscar "Frodo" Peralta's sustained guitar in a melody that takes contemporary jazz in the direction of John Zorn's Masada, while the punchy bass-drums tandem of Adriano Demartini and Julián Macedo drives the music forward in a dynamic 7/8 rhythm -- and although Peralta cuts loose with a solo that would lead any fusion fan to stand up and take notice, the band abruptly leaves jazz-rock behind too, with a slow and ominous Robert Fripp-meets-"She’s So Heavy" bridge leading into...silence. Something mysterious seems to be afoot, as a single bass note interrupts the calm, followed by additional widely spaced plucks as the melody and rhythm begin to assume a stealthy, suspenseful late-night form, augmented by a light and swift unison line from Bernal's electric keys and Rosado's soprano as random catlike yowlings add to the mood of shadowy goings-on. The band then seques back into heaviness and wraps up with a return to the theme -- a conventional move, perhaps, but maniacal laughter from a pair of guest vocalists keeps things off-kilter.

If "Tetascotch" reveals an electric jazz quintet enamored with stylistic and compositional left turns, that impression is only strengthened as Alter Huevo proceeds. "El Dengue de la Laguna" jumps so quickly from motif to motif that the listener's head is left spinning; the same can be said for the brief "Tu Guaina," and although the lengthier "Variaciones Sobre Tu Hermana" begins to flirt with bona fide swing, much of the piece is given over to small instrumental and percussive gestures, again surrounded by moments of lingering silence. World fusion flavors follow with a fine version (introduced by Bernal and Macedo's inventive percussion) of the Trilok Gurtu/Daniel Goyone arrangement of the Indian Carnatic traditional "Tillana" from Gurtu's 1993 album Crazy Saints; this, and the moody "Cerrazón en el Teyú Cuaré" with ominous soundscapes but light touches particularly from Rosado again on soprano, keep jazz flames burning amidst the changeups. Jazz hounds should also love the strong tenor solo unleashed by Rosado on the final track, "Cletalandia" -- following a segment when the band accompanies voice-over advice about restoring sexuality to marriage offered by a Paraguayan sexologist to an audience member on a television "female channel." More Zappa-esque humor? Perhaps, but Cucamonga don’t really need it; their richly creative imaginary soundtrack music speaks for itself.

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