New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: latin music

Politically Fearless Noir Mexican Psychedelia at Lincoln Center Thursday Night

“This has been a long time in the making,” Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal told an ecstatic crowd there Thursday evening.  “Tonight you are in for a treat, a powerful and soulful voice.” Then she let Edna Vazquez’s charismatic presence and slinky, thoughtful, psychedelic, often haunting songs speak for themselves.

Maybe the singer/guitarist’s stunningly eclectic blend of styles mirrors her Mexican ancestry, considering that Mexico is every bit as much of a melting pot as the US. “The Mexican government is not so different from this one,” she wryly confided three songs into her set. And then spun through the rapidfire chord changes of a tune that could be characterized as noiriachi…or the great lost Arthur Lee hit from 1966. Did he rip a mariachi riff for the ominous scamper of 7 and 7 Is…or did Vazquez hear that and decide to take that idea to the next level, with a message about freeing ourselves from the distraction that keeps us from joining forces and overthrowing the forces of evil? Or did each artist come up with those ideas completely independently?

Playing acoustic guitar and singing  mostly in Spanish in a formidable, intense mezzo-soprano that often brought to mind Nina Simone, Vazquez and her five-piece band opened with a psychedelic rock number that put a bouncy, syncopated spin on the old Status Quo hit Pictures of Matchstick Men, keyboardist Gil Assayas adding extra menace with his downwardly cascading glockenspiel lines. Then the group – which also included William Marsh on lead guitar, 3 Leg Torso’s Milo Fultz on bass and Jesse Brooke on drums – launched into the first of several slinky numbers that sounded like Love teleported to Mexico City, 1967.

Fultz switched from upright to Fender bass for Do You See, by Vazquez’s old band No Passengers, a kinetic, funk-tinged number with Lynchian lead guitar and keys and a big powerpop chorus –  the Motels gone south of the border. Marsh played allusively uneasy blues on a big anti-globalization anthem; Assayas’ brooding organ and evilly starry keys flickered through the noir new wave number that followed.

From there the band pounced their way through muted trip-hop about the serendipities of meeting random strangers, then driving backbeat rock, a mashup of Cuban rhumba and noir Mexican bolero, and a brisk new wave rock number- is there any style in Spanish or English that this woman can’t write in?

She aired out the big a-cappella intro to Sola, the night’s most dynamic and dramatic anthem, with a dark gospel-flavored intensity that built to righteous 60s soul rage,  When she finally got to the cumbia number that the dancers out on the floor had seemed to be waiting for, it turned out to be a cheery hybrid of vintage soul and Peruvian psychedelia.

An ecstatic crowd called her back for three encores: an understatedly haunting, spare solo acoustic take of the Mexican folk classic La Llorona, a stately, soaring mariachi tune with the band going full steam and then an imploringly resonant soul ballad, which Vazquez sang in English.

Vazquez and band are at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC tomorrow night, Nov 6 at 6 PM; the show is free. And the next concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space just north of 62nd Street is this Friday, Nov 10 at 7:30 PM, with Afro-Cuban percussionist Roman Diaz joining forces with the Brooklyn Raga Massive  to reinvent classic Indian themes. This show is also free – the earlier you get there, the better.

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Party People in the House in Flushing Tonight

If you’re in a party mood, grab the 7 train and head to Flushing Town Hall tonight, Oct 21 where Betsayda Machado and La Parranda El Clavo are throwing a wild Afro-Venezuelan bash at 7:30 PM. There will be all kinds of ecstatic call-and-response, booming drums and dancing: Flushing Town Hall always keeps the front section close to the stage open for the dance crowd. Cover is $16, $10 for seniors, and if you’re a kid between 13-19, you get in free, as you can at all the shows here.

Machado recreates a Venezuelan hill country party vibe, a high-voltage tradition passed down through the centuries and maintained by the descendants of the first African slaves kidnapped and brought to the Venezuelan coast. But not all those slaves remained in chains: just as the Maroons in Jamaica did, some managed to escape and set up self-sustaining communities where the the old African traditions survived more or less intact. Machado and her village band trace their ancestry to those days: with just a choir and many drums handmade from local lumber, they are as oldschool as you can get. Parranda musicians don’t stand still – they typically make a procession. The soaring voices and stomping rhythms of Machado’s band are similar to Carolina Oliveros’ Afro-Colombian bullerengue crew Bulla En El Barrio.

Machado’s new album Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree is streaming at Spotify. It’s amazing how catchy these songs are: a brass band or a salsa orchestra could have a great time filling in the harmonies between the singers and the beats. Which are all over the place: sometimes a straight-up dancefloor thump but more likely to be a swaying triplet groove, a funky dance pulse or tricky, intricate polyrhythms. What’s consistent throughout the album, and the music in general, is the contrast between the hypnotically booming drums and the energy of the vocals. The songs celebrate good times, dancing, console the lonely or the bereaved and invoke the ancient spirits, recast as Christian saints. You can sing along; it helps if you know Spanish.

Avenida B Turn Lincoln Center Into a Lower East Side Salsa Hideaway

Emcee and NYU professor Carlos Chirinos grinningly told the crowded dancefloor at Lincoln Center this past evening that salsa dura revivalists Avenida B’s show was “Designed to get you to come back every month.” And it looks like pretty much everybody here does. The couples didn’t wait to get their twirl on while oldschool salsa hits resounded through the atrium space just south of 63rd Sreet. The monthly dance party series there is called Vaya 63 – get it?

This was a real throwback show – it wasn’t hard to imagine frontman/crooner David Frankel and his octet grinding it out in some tightly packed Lower East Side social club forty years ago. With twin trombones, congas, bongos and cowbell, piano, bass and coros, the group mirrors the multicultural lineups of the great bands of the Fania years. Frankel explained that as the son of a popular Lower East Side bandleader in the 80s, he “Basically grew up with a salsa band underneath me, from birth.”

The band opened with a couple of dark, undulating originals, minor-key piano tumbling elegantly over the waves of beats and the trombones’ nocturnal lustre. Frankel kept a close eye on the dancefloor: “That’s the way to do it!” he announced, inspired by a veteran couple close to the stage. 

Did Lluvia Con Nieve hang overhead, gloomy and cold? Not really: as the band broke it down to punchy brass riffs, with a little suspense from the piano in between verses, it fit in with a day that forty years ago would have been called unseasonably balmy. There were hints of vintage James Brown and glittering Fender Rhodes psychedelia in their take of Cañonazos. They wound up the first set with a stormy new one, Paradoja, driven by an ominous, lingering bass riff, the band getting into it with Frankel who by now was showing off some dance moves of his own.

They picked right up where they left off, starting the second set with Que Humanidad, a blustery stomp centered around a ridiculously catchy four-chord riff. The next number was Guaguanco, “But you’re gonna hear a lot of different styles,” cautioned Frankel, and he wasn’t joking, in this Cuban-Loisaida mashup of rhumba, mambo and gritty Nuyorican flavor. They contrasted the fire of Timbalame with a balmier original inspired by Frankel’s teenage dreams of Latin America and the Caribbean, then made coy salsa out of the jazz standard All of Me and wound up the show on the slinky tip, alternating between classics and originals.

Avenida B’s next gig is at Taj II, 48 W 21st on Nov. 6 at 9 PM. And fans of edgy music from south of the border ought to check out witchy singer Edna Vazquez and her band, who are at the atrium on Nov 2 at 7:30 PM. The concert is free, the earlier you get there the better.

Celebrating Resistance and Triumph Over Tyranny at Lincoln Center

For three years now, Lincoln Center has been partnering with Manhattan’s  Maxine Greene High School for Imaginative Inquiry in an annual celebration of freedom fighters from across the decades. Inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Thursday night’s annual performance featured “a stellar cast,” as Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez put it, playing some powerfully relevant music and reading insightful, inspiring, sometimes incendiary works by activists and authors from the sixteenth century to the present day.

Brianna Thomas raised the bar dauntingly high with the Civil Rights-era Sam Cooke hit A Change Is Gonna Come, guitarist Marvin Sewell playing bottleneck style on the intro for a ringing, rustic, deep blues feel. “I go downtown, and somebody’s always telling me, don’t hang around,” Thomas intoned somberly over Sewell’s terse icepick soul chords. In an era when Eric Garner was murdered because he got too close to a new luxury condo building, that resounded just as mightily as it did in Birmingham in 1964. She picked it up again with a ferociously gritty insistence, the audience adding a final, spontaneous “Yeah!” at the very end.

Later in the performance the duo played a hauntingly hazy, utterly Lynchian take of Strange Fruit. Thomas’ slow, surreal swoops and dives raised the macabre factor through the roof: If there’s any one song for Halloween month, 2017, this was it.

In between, a parade of speakers brought to life a series of fiery condemnations of tyrants and oppression, and widely diverse opinions on how to get rid of them. Staceyann Chin bookended all this with an understatedly sardonic excerpt from Bartolome de las Casas’ grisly account of early conquistadorial genocide, closing with a rousing Marge Piercy piece on how to build a grassroots movement.

Shantel French matter-of-factly voiced Henry George’s insight into how poverty is criminalized, but is actually a form of discrimination. Michael Ealy’s most memorable moment onstage was his emphatic delivery of the irony and ironclad logic in Jermain Wesley Loguen’s famous letter to the slaveowner he escaped during the Civil War: ‘You say you raised me as you raised your own children…did you raise them for the whipping post?”

Geoffrey Arend read Eugene Debs’ address for his 1918 sedition sentencing, optimism in the face of a prison sentence and a corrupt system doomed to collapse  Laura Gomez voiced the anguish and indignity of a longtime resident of Vieques, Puerto Rico who’d seen his neighbors harassed and killed by drunken marines and errant bombs dropped in practice runs (this was in 1979, before the island was rendered uninhabitable by the same depleted uranium dropped on Afghanistan and Iraq). Considering that the President of the United States has castigated the people of this disaster-stricken part of the world for being a drain on the Federal budget, this packed a real wallop. We can only hope this latest incident helps the wheels of impeachment move a little faster.

Brian Jones read from a witheringly cynical pre-Emancipation Frederick Douglass speech on what the Fourth of July means to a slave, and also Martin Luther King’s emphatically commonsensical analysis of the racism and injustice inherent in the Vietnam War draft. Aasif Mandvi brought out all the black humor in Brooklyn College professor Moustafa Bayoumi’s account of being besieged by off-campus rightwing nutjobs. And joined by incisive, puristically bluesy guitarist Giancarlo Castillo, songwriter Ani Cordero sang a venomous take of Dylan’s Masters of War and an understatedly passionate, articulate version of Lydia Mendoza’s 1934 border ballad Mal Hombre, sad testimony to the fact that Mexican immigrants have been demonized long before Trump.

The next free performance at Lincoln Center’s Broadway atrium space just north of 62nd St. is on Oct 19 at 7:30 PM featuring artsy Mexican trip-hop band Ampsersan. Getting to the space a little early is a good way to make sure you get a seat, since these events tend to sell out.

A Blue Note Stand and a Tour From Perennially Fiery Latin Jazz Icon Eddie Palmieri           

At this point in his career, latin jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri has nothing left to prove. Is he a NEA Jazz Master yet? If not, let’s get those wheels in motion before Trump and his minions get rid of the NEA altogether. In the meantime, Palmieri has just released a new album, Sabiduria (“wisdom” in Spanish), his first since 2006, streaming at Bandcamp. He’s celebrating that, and his eightieth birthday, with a week at the Blue Note leading a septet starting tonight, Oct 10 through the 15th, with sets at 8 and 10:30 PM. You can get in for thirty bucks – and if you’re not in New York, you can catch him on US tour right afterward if you’re in the right place.

The core of the band on the new album is Joe Locke on vibes, Luques Curtis on bass, Anthony Carrillo on bongos and cowbell, Little Johnny Rivero on congas and Luisito Quintero on timbales, with a long list of special guests – as usual, everybody wants to play with the guy.

It opens with the aptly titled Cuerdas Y Tumbao, a mighty largescale take on a classic, whirlingly celebratory charanga sound. After the string section develops some pretty otherworldly textures, there’s an Alfredo de la Fe violin solo and then a chuggingly energetic one that Palmieri builds to a pretty far-out interlude himself, grinningly half-masked behind the orchestra.

Palmieri famously wanted to be a percussionist but switched to the piano because the competition wasn’t so intense, and the rest is history. That backstory vividly informs Wise Bata Blues, with its punchy, tumbling rhythmic riffage and a similarly kinetic, dancing exchange of solos from trumpet and alto sax, the bandleader choosing his spots with a tongue-in-cheek suspense and a lefthand that hasn’t lost any power over the decades.

Marcus Miller’s snappy bass kicks off the album’s title track, a bizarrely catchy retro 70s mashup of latin soul and psychedelic rock, fueled by Ronnie Cuber’s deliciously acidic baritone sax and David Spinozza’s sunbaked guitar riffage over Palmieri’s dancing incisions. Then the band flips the script with the serpentine guaguanco groove of La Cancha, Locke’s wryly chosen spots contrasting with de la Fe’s stark, insistent solo as the charanga blaze caches fire.

Donald Harrison’s modal sax spirals uneasily in Augustine Parish, a bracingly salsafied blues, up to a hypnotic streetcorner interlude from the percussion crew. Then Palmieri goes solo with Life, a pensively energetic, neoromantically-tinged prelude. The group follows that with the slinky, noir-tinged Samba Do Suenho, Locke’s lingering lines contrasting with Palmieri’s gritty drive – it might be the album’s best track.

Spinal Volt rises from a balmy intro to a blaze of brass and and an energetic exchange of horn solos throughout the band. The Uprising switches back and forth between a casual vocal-and-percussion descarga and a mighty anthem that brings to mind McCoy Tyner’s 70s catalog, with dueling saxes to wind it up.

The steady, Monk-like Coast to Coast slowly brings the sun from behind the clouds, Palmieri and Harrison leading the charge down and then back from a trippy tropical bass-and-percussion break. Driven by Curtis and the bandleader’s relentless attack, the mighty blues shuffle Locked In is the album’s  hardest-hitting number. It winds up with the epic Jibarita Y Su Son, shifting from a  thicket of percussion to a classic salsa dura groove lit up with a fast-forward history of Afro-Cuban beats from the percussion. It’s inspiring to say the least to see a guy Palmieri’s age putting on as wild a party as this one with a group which also includes drummers Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and Obed Calvaire, percussionists Xavier Rivera, Iwao Sado and Camilo Molina, saxophonists Louis Fouché and Jeremy Powell, and trumpeters John Walsh and Jonathan Powell.

Ladama Keep the Heat Simmering at Last Weekend’s Hot Pepper Festival in Brooklyn

Last weekend at the annual chile pepper festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, high-energy pan-latin band Ladama were charged with the thankless task of following Red Baraat , whose  brass-fueled bhangra vindaloo opened the festivities. That Ladama could hold their own, and hold the crowd gathered out of the sun and away from the long lines of chile heads in line waiting for a fix, attests to how refreshingly unpredictable and fun this group is.

Frontwoman/guitarist Sara Lucas gave that away during soundcheck. “Baile la cumbia,” she grinned, and although it wasn’t until later in their set that they hit a slinky cumbia groove, the party started pretty much right from the first bouncy beats of their opening tropical acoustic pop number. The mostly-female band’s not-so-secret weapon is Mafer Bandola, whose axe is the spiky Venezuelan bandola llanera. Throughout the show, she played with flash and fire and a purposeful focus: fast as her fingers are, she doesn’t waste notes. And she varied her textures, sometimes with a bachata-like ring, other times flicking her way through with a staccato attack, as if she was playing a mandolin. When she finally would cut loose with a furious flurry of tremolo-picking, or a slide up or down the scale, the effect was breathtaking.

The women in the band have contrasting voices that blend intriguingly. Lucas has a bright, soaring delivery, while drummer Lara Klaus – who finally emerged from behind the kit to take over lead vocals on a muted, suspenseful number – has a lower, calmer voice. Percussionist Daniela Serna comes across as the troublemaker in the band – taking a turn out in front, she rapped her way through the boisterously irrepressible Porro Maracatu, a rapidfire mashup of Brazilian rainforest rhythmic riffs and reggaeton from the band’s brand-new debut album. She also took a hypnotically rumbling solo on Colombian tambor alegre drum during a long, psychedelic take of the vamping, bossa-tinged Confesion as Lucas’ vocalese sailed overhead.

Bassist Pat Swoboda shifted elegantly from a funky pulse to starker, bowed lines, switching to Fender on one of the night’s most propulsive, Bahian-flavored numbers. Trombonist Alex Asher and trumpeter Andrew McGovern spiced a handful of the song with some rousing, punchy charts. The sardonic anger of Sin Ataduras (No Bandages) contrasted with the serpentine, joyous Cumbia Brasileira; given plenty of time onstage, the group jammed out intros and outros and left room for brief, tantalizing solos from throughout the band. Ladama’s current US tour continues:

10/7-8/2017- Shakori Hills Festival– Pittsboro, NC
10/20/2017- Columbus Theater– Providence, RI
10/24-25/2017- Dartmouth University– Hanover, NH
11/2-3/2017- Tedx Charlottesville– Charlottesville, VA

As far as hot pepper is concerned, the available samples – the ones with healthy ingredients, anyway – were a disappointment. Most of the sauces didn’t raise any real red flags – other than Hell’s Kitchen’s deliciously spiced Cinnamon Ghost Punch, that is. The westside Manhattan boutique’s sweet Rockin’ Rasta habanero sauce wasn’t quite as hot but just as flavorful and left most of the out-of-state contenders in the dirt. 

Psychedelic Peruvian Legends Los Wemblers Make a Historic Appearance in Red Hook on the 16th

A landmark event in New York music history is happening this Oct 16 at 9 PM at the Pioneer Arts Center in Red Hook, where the brain trust of Brooklyn hotspot Barbes have booked an extremely rare US show by Peruvian psychedelic cumbia legends Los Wemblers de Iquitos. Powerhouse singer Carolina Oliveros’ trippy tropicalia band Combo Chimbita – who mash up cumbia, salsa, chamame and a whole bunch of other south of the border styles – open the night. Cover is $25.

Even on their home turf, Los Wemblers had pretty much dropped out of sight until the past few years. It’s probably safe to say that if Olivier Conan and Vincent Douglas hadn’t started Chicha Libre, who brought the wild, surreal psychedelic cumbias of the 1960s and 70s out of the Amazonian jungle for the first time, staging this concert anywhere outside of a Peruvian expat community would have been absurd. But thanks in large part to their band – and Barbes Records’ two Roots of Chicha historical compilations – this trippy, intoxicatingly danceable music isn’t an obscure niche genre anymore. Maybe, as Conan once boasted, cumbia really is going to take over the world.

This family band of six guys from an isolated Amazonian oil boomtown, most of them in their sixties and seventies, played a wildly vigorous recent show that kept a mix of sweaty kids and curious oldsters on their feet for the better part of three hours. As one of the night’s emcees emphasized, Los Wemblers distinguish themselves from their innumerable countrymen who from the late 60s into the 80s mashed up American surf music, psychedelic rock, indigenous folk themes, sounds from Cuba to Argentina and pretty much all points in between.  But where so many of those bands went soft when synthesizers got popular, Los Wemblers sound exactly like they did in their hometown of Iquitos in 1969 – except louder.

The band’s patriarch, guitarist Salomon Sanchez sadly didn’t live to see the band’s resurgence, but his five sons did and now comprise most of the group. The star of the night was guitarist Alberto Sanchez, who played most of two long sets with his eyes closed, the trace of a smile on his face as his fast fingers fueled a magically clanging, twangy, undulating tropical time machine.

Behind him, the band’s two percussionists laid down a slinky, irresistible groove that boomed and rattled off the space’s bare walls to the point that there was an oscillation between the clave click of the woodblock and the thump of the congas, which raised the psychedelic factor several notches. Together they ran through a surreal mashup of snaky cumbia, sprightly Pervuian folk themes, twangy surf tunes, a couple of strikingly stark, minor-key, Cuban-tinged numbers, and many of their hits, segueing into one after another with hardly a single break.

The best one of the night was Sonido Amazonico, which they played twice. The first time around, they did the haunting, phantasmagorical “national anthem of chicha” as a sprawling ten-minute jam, a creepy cocktail of Satie-esque passing tones, like a warped tarantella to counter the effects of a lysergic spider bite. The second time around they hit it harder and more directly, like the original vinyl single, the guitarist capping off his solo with a sizzling, spiraling flight upward, then hitting his wah pedal and leaving it wide open, a murky pool of sound mingling with the echoey, cantering beats. What frontman/percussionist Jair Sanchez left no doubt about was that it was their song to mess with, notwithstanding that Lima band Los Mirlos‘ version was the bigger hit, and that Chicha Libre’s cover is what pretty much jumpstarted the Brooklyn cumbia cult.

Another hit the crowd got to twice was the careening, aptly gritty La Danza Del Petrolero – and happily, unlike the popular Los Mirlos cover, the guitar was in tune this time. The rest of the set was a fascinating look at how psychedelic cumbias are just as diverse as American psychedelic rock. Without blinking an eye, the band made their way expertly through a couple of bright, cheery vamps that more than hinted at Veracruz folk tunes, eventually hit a brooding, Cuban-flavored number, made cumbia out of a stately, dramatic tango anthem, sped up, slowed down and took a couple of frantically pulsing detours toward merengue.

One of the night’s best numbers was also the most ornate and ominously elegant – but no less danceable. Devious references to the Ventures, Duke Ellington and the Richard Strauss theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey bubbled to the surface. By the time the old guys finally called it quits, it was almost midnight. Fresh off their first ever European tour, they’re reputedly every bit as incendiary as they were this time out. The Pioneer Works show ought to be at the top of the bucket list of every New Yorker who’s into psychedelic sounds.

Joan Soriano Brings a Classic, Classy Dominican Bachata Party to Lincoln Center

This past evening was a slinky feast of chiming, shimmering guitar overtones and dance beats that ran the gamut of music from the Caribbean and beyond. Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh described her mission as bringing “The height of quality art”  to the series of free shows at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd, and she wasn’t kidding. Dominican bachata star Joan Soriano is such an interesting, incisive guitarist that it was hard to sit and chill with a beer instead of joining the twirling circles of dancers out on the floor.

Are Soriano’s fans all snappy dressers? From the looks of this crowd, guys done out in ties and white shirts, women in red or blue dresses, they could school pretty much any posse of dancers in this city, fashion-wise.

The star of the documentary El Duque De la Bachata fronts a first-rate band with rhythm guitar, guiro, punchy six-string bass and a nimble bongo player who also delivered a subtly boomy dancefloor thud (hard to imagine, but just try) on double-headed tambora. As they brought the guitar up in the mix to open the show, it sounded as if the rhythm player was using an accordion pedal, his playing was that crisp and resonant. Soriano was even faster on his big acoustic-electric, opening with a cheery two-chord vamp. Finally we got some of the deliciously sliding bass that got so popular in bachata twenty years ago

Soriano’s songs tackle the battle of the sexes: there were come-ons, and boudoir vamps, and lots of laments. They did a four-chord doo-wop vamp with a big sputtering crescendo early on, then a slinky, jazzily pensive bolero-tinged ballad that built to an impassioned peak where Soriano kept it going with his spiky broken chords as the rhythm shifted toward classic Afro-Cuban salsa.

They opened the next one with a Bollywood riff and this is where the night really started to cook: some sweet rat-a-tat from the bongos on the turnaround, bittersweet minor-key changes to mirror the angst of the lyrics.

He took a familiar oldschool soul riff and tremolo-picked furiously like Dick Dale. The songs weren’t all just two-chord vamps, either, unexpected minor changes leaping in all over the place. The rhythm player took over lead vocals on the night’s most angst-fueled, biting number, the crowd singing the chorus back at the stage. Later Soriano gave his moodiest, most subtly compelling vocal to a catchy but downcast number that was basically classic Jamaican rocksteady with a bachata beat. 

When so much of bachata has been polluted by cheesy, formulaic Disney autotune radio pop, Soriano is a breath of fresh air straight off the Caribbean. Or, as the show built steam, more like a friendly hurricane. The next show at the atrium is this Oct 19 at 7:30 PM with hypnotic, kinetic female-fronted Mexican downtempo-trip-hop/folk-pop band Ampersan as part of Celebrate Mexico Now month. If there ever was a time to celebrate Spanish-language music, or Mexico, or the Dominican Republic, that time is now.

Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna Foreshadow This Year’s New York Gypsy Festival

Saturday night at Drom, Pascuala Ilabaca didn’t let the heavy accordion slung across her shoulder keep her from bounding and dancing across the stage in front of her tight but feral band, Fauna. The Chilean singer/multi-instrumentalist became the latest in a long, long list of international stars to make their New York debut at Drom: they’re the kind of high-voltage act typically found at the East Village club’s annual New York Gypsy Festival. That annual celebration starts this Oct 8 at 8 PM with a very rare NYC appearance by Macedonian brass band Prilepski Zvezdi, and also includes Zlatne Uste, NYC’s first and arguably most authentic, explosive Balkan brass unit. Advance tix are $15.

Singing mostly in Spanish with a bright, precise, sometimes dramatic flair, Ilabaca addressed the crowd mostly in English, explaining several of the lyrics for the linguistically challenged. She didn’t pick up her accordion until after the first number, a bouncy parlor pop tune with distant hints of Asian folk music, bassist Christian Chino Chiang playing flute on the intro. From there they picked up the pace with a carnivalesque intensity, part uneasy circus rock, part pan-latin dance band, part psychedelic outfit.

From a bolero-tinged ballad, they shifted gears with the first of their reimagined Violeta Parra ballads, this one a growling one-chord jam, their excellent acoustic guitarist Juan Nuñez switching to Strat for a hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre feel. Chiang and drummer Jaime Frez kept a tight focus as the rhythms changed from the hint of a bolero to a couple of cumbias where Nuñez channeled Los Destellos great Enrique Delgado with his spiky, spiraling phrases.

Meanwhile,clarinetist Miguel Razzouk added an ominous edge with his brooding, Middle Eastern-tinged melismas and chromatics. He kept that intensity going when he switched to alto sax: it was akin to Chicha Libre with a better singer and Kinan Azmeh sitting in on reeds – that good.

Midway through the set, Ilabaca moved to piano and built a similarly shadowy, moody ambience with her own edgy chromatics, neoromantic art-rock flourishes contrasting with low, lingering atmospherics. The high point of the night might have been when a big anthem hit peak velocity, the group cascading up and down on a biting Indian raga riff, over and over again.

Or it might have been the encore, which had to be the alltime most macabre version of the Parra classic El Gavilan. That one’s a metaphorically-charged tale of a woman who gets torn to pieces by hawk. The band opened it slowly and took their time building to a harrowing, frantic crescendo, Ilabaca wailing “Gavilan,” over and over again as the group rose to a terrified squall. As foreshadowing for both the festival at Drom and Halloween month, it was unbeatable.

Eljuri Headline an Inspiring, Adrenalizing NYCLU Benefit at Drom

Wednesday night at Drom, power trio Eljuri had been hinting for awhile that they were going to take the music straight into roots reggae. So when frontwoman/guitarist Cecilia Villar Eljuri finally led the band into a couple of bars of Peter Tosh’s Get Up, Stand Up, and from there into Bob Marley’s Exodus, it was an impactful payoff. The emphasis wasn’t on getting out, but a ‘movement of jah people,” which dovetailed with Eljuri’s own fearlessly relevant, sometimes incendiary lyricism. That defiant, populist focus made the band an apt choice to top the bill at this benefit concert for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Singing mostly in Spanish in a clear, bright voice, Eljuri’s persistent message was one of resistance and solidarity, through a mix of songs taken mostly from her most recent album La Lucha (The Struggle). Last year this blog called her “this era’s David Gilmour of rock en Español,” and she validated that description. The band opened with the album’s title track, setting the stage for the rest of their hour onstage, Eljuri alternating between jangly, funk-tinged lines and aching, screaming, resonant Pink Floyd-style leads. She hit her twelve-string pedal for a glittering, chimey take of Indiferencia, her drummer – fresh off the plane from Venezuela and already making a mark with his unpredictable, counterintuitive fills – adding cumbia-style flair on the turnaounds.

They built brooding, dramatic intensity with the bolero-tinged anthem El Viento and later took the sound further upward to epic art-rock grandeur with a long, searing take of the revolutionary thirst anthem Sed. Then the band took a turn toward cheery new wave with Right Now. The bassist switched between a terse, low-key pulse and serpentine climbs up the scale, especially when the groove moved further toward the Caribbean. One of the best songs of the night was a darkly stately, slowly crescendoing anthem written by Eljuri’s mom.

Ani Cordero played an elegantly impassioned opening set solo on nylon-string guitar, drawing mostly from her latest, fearlessly political album Querido Mundo. Calmly and resolutely, she reminded that crowd that in times like these, we shouldn’t get too escapist: if there was ever a moment to be a presence protesting the daily lunacy wafting from the Oval Office, that time is now. She got the crowd singing along to the insistently bouncy anti-police brutality anthem Me Tumba, then ran through Victor Jara’s bittersweet protest song Deja la Vida Volar, from her 2014 album of classic political songs, Recordar. She closed with a jaunty take of the old Puerto Rican plena hit Ay Choferito.

A lawyer from the NYCLU explained between sets that one new constituency they’ve been helping since the Swamp Cabinet took office is latino immigrants on Long Island, whose children are being detained by police under the pretext of investigating gang involvement. When the cops don’t find any reason to hold the kids any longer, they turn them over to the INS.

Drom continues to be Manhattan’s home to interesting sounds from around the globe: the acts we’ll be seeing at Lincoln Center in the coming years typically make their US debut here. One auspicious upcoming show here is on Sept 30 at 8 with wild accordion-driven Chilean psychedelic band Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna making their US debut. $15 adv tix are highly recommended.