SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — A new multiculturalism has surfaced in what's loosely been called Latin jazz. Musicians from across the Americas and the world have come together to transcend stylistic and political boundaries and to develop new musical hybrids, sounds that borrow from a number of cultures and genres including jazz and fusion. The bands of saxophonist Justo Almario, percussionist Alex Acun and bassist Abraham Laboriel all fall into this category.
But few represent the movement as well, or have been as successful, as guitarists Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah. Their quintet that played Saturday at the Coach House was a cross-cultural gathering of the most representative sort. Strunz was born in Costa Rica; Farah is from Iran. Percussionist Juanito (Long John) Oliva is Cuban, bassist Eliseo Borrero is Puerto Rican and drummer Paul Tchounga hails from the Cameroons. Despite these differences in heritage, this is a band all of one mind.
The music the group presented was as diverse as the membership. The set opened with a merengue-flavored "Caracol" with ties to the Dominican Republic, then moved to Strunz's rhumba-paced "Rayo," followed by "Candela" which, Strunz announced, had been inspired by Spanish Gypsy music. Throughout the evening, African, Carribbean and Middle Eastern influences met with flamenco and classical touches.
Though the set--pulled largely from the year-old recording "Americas" and the earlier world-music chart topper "Primal Magic"--covered much the same ground as Strunz and Farah's July, 1991, appearance here, it nevertheless showed the pair's nylon-stringed guitar styles to advantage while revealing some contrast on their approaches.
Strunz was the more exacting of the two; he pulled astoundingly crisp runs and chords from his instrument, sometimes high up on its neck. Farah's more melodic (and slightly less ambitious) approach came through in a bit more brittle tone, and an ear toward the percussive value of his sound. Still, without watching closely, it was difficult to tell who was taking the lead and who was playing in support.
Though some of the tunes were drawn out for too long, there were just enough variations in the material to keep the 90-minute program from becoming tedious. Strunz's "The Jaguar" built from a sultry rhythm and mysterious bass line into a minor-key lament that moved with the grace of a cat. "Selva," with its double-time dance pace, provided a racing backdrop, over which the guitarists floated somewhat sweet harmonies. The band's execution of the surprise pauses during the number was seamless and tight.
The closing number, "Americas," with a Spanish vocal from bassist Borrero, also gave drummer Tchounga and percussionist Oliva a chance to display their wares. But the efforts were less than inspired, and the tune itself relied too much on repetition of its theme and brought the set to a tedious close. That didn't stop the audience from demanding more, though. What followed--Farah's "Twilight at Zuq," a short, to-the-point number that relied more on lyrical beauty than rhythmic propulsion--was the kind of thing the entire show could have used more of.