After moving to the United States from Peru in 1975, Ciro Hurtado rose to prominence adding a third guitar to Strunz & Farah’s sound for several years and recording and touring as a member of the longstanding Latin American folk jazz ensemble Huayucaltia. Of the many albums he’s released along the way under his own name, Altiplano takes a relatively minimalist approach to revisiting and reinventing the Andean music of his homeland.
The album opens with “Macchu Picchu,” an ensemble piece incorporating keyboards, bass, quena, zampoñas, bombos, shaker, charango, and Indian vocals by Siddhartha Belmannu. A similar grouping resurfaces on “Recuerdos,” with Mariel Henry singing lead in Spanish, supported by vocalists Libby Harding and Cindy Harding (Hurtado’s wife). Lovely as they are, those tunes do not push much beyond the mild-mannered parameters of world-folk fusion. The rest of the album presents Hurtado’s fine flamenco-, classical-, and jazz-influenced guitar work in simpler settings: four solo acoustic instrumentals, one duet with Cindy Harding on flutes and percussion, two trios with vocals (one by Cindy Harding, one by Alexa Ramirez), and a quartet with quena, cello, and shaker.
Those who were introduced to Andean music by the classic tune “El Condor Pasa” by Los Incas and Simon & Garfunkel, will hear enough zampoña (pan flute) to stir the memory, for better or worse, but it’s Hurtado’s pristine nylon-string picking that carries the recording, right through the laid-back cover of “The House of the Rising Sun” that brings the album to an unruffled conclusion.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.