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Susan Alcorn / Septeto del Sur — Canto
(Bandcamp Relative Pitch Records RPR1170, 2023, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2024-03-23

Canto Cover art

With Canto, Susan Alcorn explores another facet of music that is not generally associated with pedal steel guitar. Pedernal (2020) was exploratory jazz with an elite crew of American improvisers, and now she’s working with Septeto del Sur, a group she assembled in Chile consisting of musicians expanding on their own country’s local styles, particularly nueva canción, a variety of politically charged folk music that arose in the 60s and was brutally suppressed when Augusto Pinochet took power in 1973. Alcorn’s collaborators here are Luis “Toto” Alvarez (guitar), Amanda Irarrázzabal (bass, vocals), Claudio “Pajaro” Araya (drums, cuatro), Francisco “Pancho” Araya (charango, quena), Rodrigo Bobadilla (flute, guitar, vocals), and Danka Villanueva (violin, vocals), all of whom have extensive credits in many different styles and have a drive towards experimentation. Listeners who have heard Inti-Illimani or Los Jaivas (to pick two of the best known Chilean bands) will recognize some of the sounds on Canto, though placed in a much less traditional context. Alcorn’s pedal steel, in conjunction with these other instruments, makes for a unique sound. The timbres are very evocative, and can be imagined as the soundtrack to a film exploring some aspect of Chile’s turbulent past. The overall thrust is much more inclined towards improvisation than any kind of collective groove, and the drums are rarely involved in any kind of rhythmic motion, focusing instead on punctuating the melodic lines or providing moods. Given the size of the ensemble, it is a testament to the players’ unselfish sensitivity that the music is often rather sparse. The album finishes with a bluesy, almost rock-oriented version of “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz,” a song by famed Chilean singer Victor Jara, who was brutally killed by police shortly after Pinoche’s coup. Susan Alcorn’s love of South American music has led to the creation of a truly unique and fascinating set of music.

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): Susan Alcorn

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