New York Music Daily

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Category: latin music

An Insider Look at This Year’s Amazing Accordion Festival at Bryant Park

The annual accordion festival at Bryant Park continues with a couple of amazing shows tomorrow, July 19 at 6 PM and then the grand finale, which starts at 5 on Friday the 21st with the haunting Lebanese sounds of the Bil Afrah Project ,with Gregorio Uribe headlining and leading a wild celebration of Colombian Independence Day at 9 PM.

If you’ve spent any time at the festival over the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed a tall blonde woman calmly making her way across the park, taking lots of pictures and getting lots of hugs from accordionists. She always seems to have a Mona Lisa smile on her face. Then again, you’d be smiling too, if you ran an accordion festival.

That irrepressible impresario is Ariana Hellerman, who’s also the publisher of the indispensable Ariana’s List of free summer concerts and events all over New York. Backstage Sunday night at the Innov Gnawa show on the Upper West Side, Hellerman shared some history and some secrets:

New York Music Daily: First, I just want to say thanks for finding so much sonic bliss, and sharing it with us. I think your festival should be a yearlong event. Any hope for making it longer this year?

Ariana Hellerman: I have ideas, but nothing is set in stone – yet. Stay tuned!

But in general, my work is around making arts accessible to people and I get most pleasure from producing in public space – parks, plazas, etcetera. Because of winter weather, it becomes more difficult to work in these places. I’m beginning to think about public spaces that exist indoors. If anyone has ideas, I’m always open.

NYMD: How do you find these people? Other than googling “accordionist NYC”?

AH: I have a few sources. Before I was invited to help design this series, Bryant Park had lone accordionists strolling around the park once a week. The Park had about fifteen people on their roster. When I came on board with the “Accordions Around the World” idea – and with the hopes of making the series more of a destination for the park -, I brainstormed all the local accordionists I knew in New York. Because my interest is mainly music from around the world, I tried to think of all the bands I knew who had accordion – and there were quite a few. In addition, I racked the brains of others and scanned the webpages of some of my favorite venues and festivals – Barbes in Brooklyn and the annual Balkan music festival, Golden Fest were amongst the lot.

In 2013, the first year of this incarnation of the series, I was able to find thirty additional accordionists. I continue to do this type of research regularly so that we can be more inclusive of new styles and musicians. But because the series is becoming more of a destination, many people have begun to reach out to me. Over the last five editions, my list has grown to 470 accordionists!

NYMD: Does you own personal taste in accordion music include tango, cumbia, klezmer, Middle Eastern, tarantella, Celtic, cajun and jazz?

AH: Yes. While I like some genres more than others, my priority is sharing culture. Even if my ears don’t agree with the sound, I continue to be inclusive because this is “Accordions Around the World” and we want as many styles of music represented in the series.

NYMD: I always find myself having to explain to people why I think the accordion is one of the three coolest instruments in the world – the oud and the church organ being the other two. Do you find yourself having to do the same sort of thing? What do you tell people?

AH: When I tell people I curate an accordion festival, I’m usually met with a “Really????,” followed by a surprised or disgusted look, and then a sheepish giggle. My usual spiel in response is: “You know, when Americans usually think of the accordion, they think of polka, Lawrence Welk, and yesteryear kitsch. But, in many parts of the world, it’s one of the most important instruments to convey the sound of the region. And in New York, we are lucky to have access to many of these cultures.” And then I outline the cultures.

I also think the accordion is cool because it’s an instrument of immigration, migration, and connections. You can hear similar sounds in Cajun music – which traveled from Quebec to Louisiana with obvious French influence prior – and forró from the northeast of Brazil. Many immigrants from all over Europe – Italian, German, Jewish, Polish, etcetera – came to the US in the late 19th/early 20th century and brought their music forms with them. This continues today with more recent immigrant communities such as Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. Accordion usually sparks conversation and each week in the park, I almost always hear “You know, my grandfather/grandmother/father/mother/aunt/uncle played the accordion.” I like that many people of very different backgrounds have a personal connection to the instrument.

NYMD: Can you give us a capsule history of the Bryant Park Accordion Festival? How did it start? You’ve been doing it for four years now….

AH: Dan Biederman, the president of Bryant Park, took a trip to France and stumbled upon an accordionist in a park and was enchanted. Since Bryant Park has Parisian elements, the experience made him want to create a similar, serendipitous experience. For a few summers, a accordionist would stroll around for a few hours. It was nice, but people weren’t coming to chase after the lone musician.

I have a blog, arianaslist.com, where I share free cultural events in New York. Many people in the field read the blog since I write about their events and because I provide ideas on how to make the arts more accessible to audiences. In spring of 2013, Ethan Lercher, the executive producer of Bryant Park Presents, their cultural arm, contacted me. He had read one of my blog posts that described my experience at the Festival Vallenato in Valledupar, Colombia. I had just come back from living in Colombia and had attended a festival of Vallenato music, a Colombian genre that focuses on the accordion. He asked, “what do you know about accordion?” He wanted to make the accordion more prominent in the Park’s programming. My response was, “I don’t know that much but what fascinates me about the instrument is how it’s played in so many cultures.” From there, we began to explore the idea of “Accordions Around the World.”

NYMD: Are you happy with how the festival has gone this year, with rescheduling and all?

AH: It’s been wonderful. This is the first season that we’ve had our “Accordion Picnic” format for the entirety of the series. In the past, the audience and passer-bys were invited to stroll around to see accordionists play two-hour sets in different pockets of the park. This year, the accordionists come to the audiences: each accordionist plays a 15 minute set before another comes in. This way, if an audience member sets up shop in one location, they will hear eight styles of music over the two hour span. There are also six stations around the park so people can “chase” the music or artist they would like to hear.

Since we’re eager to provide a good experience for audience members, Bryant Park provides blankets to borrow, encourages picnics, and even sells alcoholic beverages that can be consumed on the lawn. It’s lovely and we’ve noticed an uptick in attendance.

NYMD: Yeah, I should say. Another thing I want to mention is that there’s no sonic competition with shrieking alarms on city buses. And it’s also a lot easier now that you don’t have to chase the accordionist.

AH: With this format, the artists are also able to engage with the other accordionists, and see other styles of music on the accordion. My secret hope is that I’m sparking relationships between accordionists ,and new, exciting projects will come from this!

NYMD: What highlights do you have to share? I’ve seen so many great acts – Rachelle Garniez, Simon Moushabeck ,Guillermo Vaisman,,Melissa Elledge , so many others. Who have you seen that really floored you this year?

AH: We have incredible artists in the series. I can’t choose one! They’re all near and dear to my heart. In this moment, the Brazilian artists in this series really stand out: I love Felipe Hostins who is from Santa Catarina, Brazil. He grew up playing polkas, which was the main accordion music in his hometown in the south of Brazil. Today he is helping to lead the forró movement in New York. Vitor Gonçalves has been playing choro, an instrumental genre which originated in 19th century Rio de Janeiro, his hometown. As a trained jazz musician, he also incorporates a lot jazz into his sets. Eduardo de Carvalho lives in Newark and has mainly played restaurant gigs to date. He is ready for a bigger stage with his incredibly strong sertanejo and forro. Rob Curto grew up in a Sicilian family but spent many years living in Brazil. Today he shares his blend of bluegrass and forró with us. These four players are so incredibly strong. But again, we have so many incredible artists in these series. If we had time, I would tell you about each and every one!

NYMD: Can I ask you, you’re a pianist. Why aren’t you an accordionist, you obviously love the instrument so much…and it’s a lot easier to take an accordion with you when you move. I realize also that this isn’t a fair question, you could ask me the same thing and I wouldn’t have a really good answer for you…

AH: Accordion never even seemed to be an option while I was studying classical piano. And now I’m a music appreciator more than a musician. Though because I know so many accordionists, it has crossed my mind to take up lessons and to become (or more likely, fail at becoming) the singer-songwriter-rockstar I am in my dreams. 

NYMD: You lived in Colombia and Argentina. To what degree did that influence your accordion fixation?

AH: Obviously living in Colombia became the inspiration for this series, as you know. And while I knew tango and the bandoneón – the free reed instrument played for tango – before living in Argentina, I was introduced to chamamé, a folk music genre from northeast Argentina, while living there. It is a fusion of Guaraní  – the indigenous population from this part of the world –  Spanish, German, Polish, and Ukrainian music. There were a lot of Eastern European immigrants to this region in the early 20th century. I’m thrilled that we have our first chamamé artist, Guillermo Vaisman in the series this season.

NYMD: Do you have a desert island accordion song? Or album? Or accordion song you’d want somebody to play at your wedding?

AH: No. Though I just stumbled upon a short clip I recorded of Felipe Hostins from last week’s edition and I’ve been listening to it on loop. He says its his original composition called “Minh’alma” (My Soul) and it’s chamamé – our artists are obviously inspired by all forms of music! It’s so good.

While I love accordion and I can identify when the music is really good, for me, this is about sharing culture with the people of New York. My work is all about creating live performance opportunities for artists and audiences alike. I get joy from seeing these connections made and the joy it brings others.

NYMD: What’s your alltime favorite accordion concert?

AH: Our Accordions Around the World Festival is always a highlight, obviously. But outside of the performances I curate… I always love Lila Downs and we’re lucky to have her accordionist, George Saenz in our series!

NYMD: Just saw her at Prospect Park at the end of last month. Amazing. Nice work getting him!

AH: Another experience that comes to mind – when I was in Argentina, one of my colleagues connected me to Chango Spasiuk, who is one of the most famous musicians down there, who is known for chamamé. He picked me up in a limo, along with his bandmates, and I got to watch his whole show from backstage. The experience was pretty cool!

NYMD: Tell me about closing night on the 21st, this Friday.Is this a bunch of debuts? Has the Bil Afrah project ever played anywhere elase before? How about Peter Stan’s new band? It’s gonna be amazing!

AH: The Bil Afrah Project has performed before but not in a setting that can yield this large of an audience – in past years, we’ve had about four thousand people. It’s very exciting. We’ve put the word out to the Lebanese and Arab community and we hope they will come out. Ziad Rahbani is one of the most important and known composers from the Arab World, son of the famous Fairuz.

Peter Stan’s Zlatni Balkan Zvuk is brand new and will be debuting at the Festival. In talking with Peter – of Slavic Soul Party fame – I asked him if he ever played traditional Serbian music since SSP is more of a jazz/funk Balkan brass group. He told me he didn’t think there would be a market for it. After he shared more information and shared examples of Balkan wedding music, I chose to disagree! All of the musicians in this group are from the Balkans  – including Peter’s son who is also an accordionist! – and have been rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing. I’m really excited to welcome them, and was happy to provide the opportunity to Peter to be a bandleader for the first time. Given how amazing Peter is, I know this is just the beginning for them. 

A Long, Strange, Psychedelic New York Week, Part Two

In two parts – part one is here

After seeing Cameroonian singer Blick Bassy‘s unexpectedly psychedelic New York debut at Lincoln Center Thursday night, it was fun to wind up the evening at Barbes with a whole set by cinematic Venezuelan-American psychedelic instrumental trio Los Crema Paraiso. After taking their time loading their loop pedals, they played most of their newest album, De Pelicula to projections of segments from 1970s Venezuelan films: a road movie, a comedy and maybe a documentary or two.

When they do their all-instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond, they usually play the whole monstrosity – this time the crowd got just the short version. Bittersweetly summery highway themes, frenetic volleys of tremolo-picking from guitarist José Luis Pardo, slinky and emphatic basslines from Bam Bam Rodriguez and the shapeshifting rhythms of drummer Neil Ochoa were mostly live, although both Pardo and Rodriguez’s pedals kicked in with some simple harmony lines or hazy textures from time to time, as their bouncy chamame rock themes unwound. At the end, they played their cover of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World, and finally, after having sufffered through that atrocity more than once before, it made sense – as theme music for a montage of banana republic dictators and their crimes. In this band’s hands, it became a horrible song about horrible people.

Saturday afternoon, it was even more annoying to miss almost all of psychedelic latin soul stars Chicano Batman’s set at Central Park Summerstage. The same thing happened with Roy Ayers’ set on Sunday  too. Both acts ended up going on an hour ahead of schedule, and a lot of people who showed up were disappointed. Five minutes of Bardo Martinez’s magic-carpet organ textures against Carlos Arévalo’s similarly kaleidoscopic guitar were tantalizing to the point of being painful.

And while it’s impossible to hate on Los Pericos – the Argentine ska-reggae crew has been around for thirty years and sound better now than their records from the 80s – it was also impossible to get out of sulk mode for them. Their tunes are catchy, their choruses go to more interesting places than most current roots reggae acts do, and just when it seemed they were about to get bogged down in a vampy, simplistic rut, they finally hit a grey-sky, Steel Pulse-ish minor-key groove. But all that was no substitute for the group originally schedued to headline this bill.

Back at home base Barbes on Saturday night, singer Chi-Chi Glass provided solace in the form of an unselfconsciously psychedelic solo set that she opened with a segment from an Albeniz piano suite. From there she built a synth-and-cajon suite of her own based on a Peruvian folk theme, sang a revolutionary folk tune in Quecha and finally encored with a haunting setting of a Maya Angelou poem, part noir cha-cha, part classical tone poem, part eerie art-rock.

The Spellbinding Rachelle Garniez Tops the Bill at This Year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival

What’s the likelihood of being able to get what amounts to an intimate, personal show from the world’s greatest English-language songwriter? A handful of New Yorkers got to experience that at last night’s edition of the ongoing Bryant Park Accordion Festival, following Rachelle Garniez across the park to various stations for tantalizingly brief fifteen-minute mini-sets.

Even though there were two dozen other accordionists playing in the park’s four corners and next to the fountain on the Sixth Avenue side, it was impossible to resist taking in two sets from Garniez. What was most fascinating was to watch her mash up elements of latin, klezmer, zydeco, classical, punk rock and even a bit of opera, banging out one song after another without the hilariously surreal, politically-charged stream-of-consciousness intros and jams that have made her legendary among New York performers.

The best song of the night was Tourmaline, a bittersweet waltz that works on innumerable levels: ultimately, it’s about rugged individuality triumphing against all odds. Without any more fanfare, Garniez let the rest of her songs speak for themselves.

The funniest moment was during Jean-Claude Van Damme, a tongue-in-cheek shout-out to a pitchman for antidepressants. She got everybody laughing when she reached the part about certain personality traits that have to be brought under control – then hammered that word again, and again, until everybody within earshot got the message. The faux-operatic outro, where she took a flying leap to the very top of her formidable four-octave vocal range, was pretty funny too.

She also played the jaunty, cabaret-infused Just Because You Can (Doesn’t Mean You Should), whose corollary is “just because you should doesn’t mean you can,” along with the slyly strutting, seductive Medicine Man, packed with all kinds of coy double entendres. She’s emceeing the festival’s closing night a week from today on June 21 at 6 PM, which might be the single best concert of the year, a bill that includes the Bil Afrah Project, who recreate iconic Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani’s legendary 1975 Bil Afrah album; pyrotechnic Romany accordionist Peter Stan’s new band Zlatni Balkan Zvuk, Brazilian accordionist Felipe Hostins’ new forro group Osnelda; and cumbia accordionist/crooner Gregorio Uribe leading his slinky big band in celebration of Colombian Independence Day.

The festival’s only drawback is that it’s such a feast that there isn’t time to see everybody on the bill. It was awfully cool last night to watch accordionist Simon Moushabeck make his way through Arabic modes with all sorts of enigmatic passing tones, in two abbreviated duo sets with oudist Brian Prunka, mixing up steady, serpentine originals with a Fairouz cover or two.

Further to the west, Sadys Rodrigo Espitia played equally slinky, catchy cumbia and vallenato numbers. When he forgot the words to the hit Cumbia Del Oriente, a woman in the crowd sauntered over to the mic: and sang them with serious Colombian pride.

It was also cool to get to watch popular busker and Thee Shambels accordionist Melissa Elledge jam out cinematic themes and a Johnny Cash classic, then make noir blues out of Beethoven. Late one night a couple of years ago in the Second Avenue F train station, after a Bowery Ballroom show, Elledge played what had to be the most heartwrenchingly gorgeous version of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 ever. So it was refreshing to be able to just chill on the grass and hear her think outside the box without the usual subway stresses. Garniez may be the world’s most brilliantly eclectic songwriter, but as an instrumentalist, Elledge is on the same page.

Before the big blowout on the 21st, there’s another night of mini-sets from another amazing cast of accordionists at Bryant Park on July 19 starting at 6 PM, with a lineup including avant garde and klezzmer player Shoko Nagai, pan-Mediterranean wizard Ismail Butera, jazz luminary Will Holshouser and Ed Goldberg & the Odessa Klezmer Band.

Chicano Batman, the Hottest Thing in Latin and Psychedelic Soul, Hit Central Park This Weekend

Chicano Batman are the hottest thing in psychedelic soul right now – or maybe in all of soul music, for that matter. Over the course of their eclectic career, they’ve done everything from noir psychedelia to  LA lowrider grooves as well as  more tropical sounds. Their latest album Freedom Is Free – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most traditionally 60s soul-oriented, yet with the psychedelic touches they’re best known for. They’re the highlight of a triplebill this Satutday,  July 15 at around 5 PM at Central Park Summerstage. A generically dancey band open the afternoon at 3ish; popular 80s Argentine janglerockers Los Pericos headline atfterward if you feel like sticking around for your nostalgia fix .Get there on time if you’re going

The album opens with Passed You By, a gorgeous oldschool soul ballad  that sounds like the Zombies covering the Stylistics, with Binky Griptite in elegant mode on lead guitar. The reverb on frontman Bardo Martinez’s organ, backing vocals and echoey guitar fragments add subtle psychedelic touches to the point where the whole is a lot bigger than the sum of its parts – this band is very good at doing that.

Martinez  turns up his organ’s roto all the way over drummer Gabriel Villa’s scrambling shuffle groove, like the Soul Brothers with hints of James Brown, in Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm). Angel Child is a real trip: strutting bass, woozy wah guitar, lysergically pulsing Sergeant Pepper textures and a little in-the-pocket James Brown all mashed up together.

Bassist Eduardo Arenas’ snappy drive fuels the album’s sunny title track, while guitarist Carlos Arévalo shows off his elegant Hendrixian chosp on the spiky, psychedleic intro to the understatedly plaintive, Os Mutantes-tinged La Jura, a feast of vintage organ and vintage analog synth textures. All the trick endings raise the surrealism level several notches.

The band balances rapidfire precision – check out Arévalo’s wry wah-wah guitar solo – with a lingering red-sunset atmosphere in Flecha Al Sol. Jealousy is not the creepy Ninth House dirge but an artfully assembled, crescendoing  original – is that a weird low-register synth patch, or Arenas’ bass running through a fuzztone pedal? It’s anybody’s guess.

The band follows the delicious jangles and ripples of the bouncy latin funk intro Right Off the Back with Run, a swaying, shapeshifting mini-epic sparkling with blippy organ, flitting congas, mosquito guitar, soaringly orchestrated choruses featuring New York’s own all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache and a couple of unexpectedly balmy organ interludes.

The album’s longest and best track, The Taker Story, is an anti-imperialist broadside, part Isaac Hayes hot butter, part Gil Scott-Heron, with a hazy latin tint. Over a leaping, trickily polyrhythmic groove, Martinez traces many thousand years of colonization and relentless exploitation. “You can’t believe that native people are still around,” Martinez intones with withering sarcasm. The album winds up with the uneasily rippling psych-folk theme Area C. This is going to be the summer jam for an awful lot of people in 2017.

An Improbable, Magic Comeback Album From Psychedelic Cumbia Legends Los Wembler’s

The best short album of 2017 is by a band from the 1960s who until now have never released a record outside Peru. Los Wembler’s de Iquitos play chicha, the surfy, reverb-drenched psychedelic cumbias that were all the rage from Lima to the Amazon from the late 60s til the early 80s, and thanks to Chicha Libre have become arguably the world’s default party music. But unlike so many of their more urban colleagues, Los Wembler’s (the apostrophe is probably just bad English) never got soft with synthesizers or drum machines. Their new ep Ikaro Del Amor – streaming at Spotify  – captures the band pretty much as feral and surreal as they were almost fifty years ago, except with good production values. And producer/Chicha Lilbre bandleader Olivier Conan gives the band a chance to tune their guitars, something they didn’t get to do when recording their big Amazonian hit La Danza Del Petrolero, which first reached a global audience via the first of Barbes’ Records’ two indispensable Roots of Chicha compilations.

The only band member who didn’t live to see this is family patriarch and bounder Salomon Sanchez Casanova. Otherwise, this is most of the original members, on guitars, bass and multi-percussion. The opening title track, a chicha standard, comes across as a bizarrely catchy mashup of ska rhythm, tropical mosquito guitar, Ventures surf twang and a little C&W. There’s a mysterious shout-out to Brooklyn in there too.

The centerpiece is a sprawling, phantasmagorical take of Sonido Amazonico, later simplified into a one-chord jam (and a big hit) by Lima band Los Mirlos, then recorded almost forty years later by Chicha Libre as the title track to their first album. Over time, the song has become as iconic as Pipeline is to surf rock fans, or Anarchy in the UK is to punks. Awash in resonant jangle, wah-wah riffs and endless permutations on an ominous chromatic melody, it’s the creepiest, slinkiest, trippiest jam of the year.

There are two other tracks. The epic La Mentecata has a wryly expanding, Twelve Days of Xmas style series of verses, a bubbly, almost Cuban guitar hook and a steady clave on the woodblock. The final cut is Dos Amores, lead guitarist Alberto Sanchez Casanova airing out every sound in his effects boxes, from a fair approximation of an electric accordion to the kind of low-budget electric piano one might have found in a ramshackle recording studio in the band’s halcyon days.

That this album exists at all boggles the mind; until being rediscovered in the early part of this decade the band would regroup for the occasional block party, but that’s about it. And now they’re wrapping up their first European tour. Big up to Conan and Barbes Records for having the foresight to bring them to the mass audience they deserve.

A Ferocious Brooklyn Celebration of Diverse Mexican Sounds

Thursday night at Prospect Park Bandshell, Lila Downs and her lavish twelve-piece band put on a show that was as American as America gets these days. Early in the set, the intense, impassioned singer and bandleader explained that Mexican music is a joint celebration of three cultures, African, Spanish and Native American. Then, addressing the Mexican contingent in Spanish, she made it clear that this was in defiance of the demagogue in the Oval Office. Even the non-Spanish speakers figured that one out – and roared their approval.

The red-flare trumpet cadenza that her Mexico City-based trumpeter fired off to open a duel with his American jazz counterpart, Josh Deutsch? Spanish flamenco, but with the biting chromatics of North Africa and the Middle East hovering in the distance. But then Deutsch took it straight into volleys of African-American jazz.

The insistent, off-kilter metrics of a couple of mariachi songs drew a dotted line across the water to Africa, while their bouncy melodies were pure, native Mexican. And the overtone-rich jangle of the Rickenbacker guitar – when it could be heard ringing through an awful sound mix – was pure heartland America, or Liverpool, if you go back a little further.

Downs’ latest album Salon, Lagrimas y Deseo goes deeply into the mariachi tradition, but as the show went on, she also took on the role of angst-ridden ranchera diva, cumbia siren and wounded Mexican film ingenue. Over the keening strings and frequently spine-tingling flights of a trio of members of New York’s own all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache, she belted with characteristic raw power in her low register, and took a couple of dramatic flights up to the very top where she held on for dear life – and held the crowd breathless with how long she managed to stay up there.

There are many cultures in Mexico, but one common quality is resilience: the Mexican people have been through a lot, especially lately, and Downs’ songs reflect that. It would be an overstatement to say that love under an occupation is one of her themes, but any Spanish-speaking American can relate to her irony-infused narratives of trying to keep things together on a personal level while embattled from all sides. Minor keys soared and pulsed, guitars and cuatros  rippled and strummed amidst blazing brass and undulating, eclectic grooves. Downs hadn’t been here in awhile, was psyched to be back and everybody was glad to have her here.

Another band who’re taking Mexican music to new places, Orkesta Mendoza, opened, cursed with an even worse sound mix. Yet while they were also missing their usual secret weapons – baritone saxophonist Marco Rosano and lapsteel player Joe Novelli – their songs proved to be so strong, and catchy, that they stood alone with just a guitar-bass-drums setup frequently spiced with trumpet, clarinet or creepily carnivalesque roller-rink organ. Like Downs, they played a bunch of slinky cumbias; at one point, leader Sergio Mendoza tried to get the sleepy early early-evening crowd to count down a number, James Brown style, but they weren’t having it. Charismatic baritone singer Salvador Duran worked up a sweat punching out the beat with his shakers while Mendoza switched back and forth between acoustic guitar and organ and their multi-instrumentalist played just about everything else And bassist Adam Rogers sang a number that was part latin soul, part Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Which makes sense: the Elevators were a Texas band.

The afterparty was at Barbes, and was even wilder. With their biting, chiming, punchy acoustic guitars and singer/dancer Julia del Palacio firing off machinegunning beats with her tap shoes, Radio Jarocho celebrated the pan-latin sounds that have steamed into Veracruz over the past many decades. With their colleagues Mariachi  Flor de Toloache in the house, New York’s only original son jarocho band sprinted through a mix of funny, often smutty, wryly aphoristic songs about drinking, chasing women and smoking weed. Yet just when it seemed the party had reached its peak, they completely flipped the script with the best song of the night, a gorgeously stark, bolero-ish minor-key lament. This is what Trump wants to keep out of the country with his wall? Put a wall around this, wigface. Happy Fourth of July, everybody.

The Bryant Park Accordion Festival – Pure Sonic Bliss

Wednesday night, the four corners of Bryant Park were awash in the blissful, plaintive, bittersweet and sometimes boisterously pulsing tones of many of New York’s most captivating accordionists. Booked by Ariana Hellerman, publisher of the irreplaceable free events and concert guide Ariana’s List – a primary source for a lot of what you find on the monthly NYC concert calendar here – opening night of this year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival featured music from France, Russia, Colombia, Ireland, Brazil, many other countries and all over the US as well. Hellerman’s setup – a single accordionist or small group situated in every corner of the park, as well as over by the fountain on the west side, works out perfectly since each act is far enough away from the others to ensure that there’s no sonic competition.

Performances are staggered, Golden Fest style, with brief fifteen minute sets and virtually no time lost between acts. Some of the accordionists rotate, so that you can catch more of them if fifteen minutes isn’t enough for you  – seriously, is fifteen minutes of accordion music ever enough?

A tour of the festival’s first hour was as rapturously good as expected. It was tempting to pull up a seat in the shade to be serenaded by the Wisterians’ poignant French musettes, or the great Ismail Butera’s edgy, supersonic take on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean sounds, or Phil Passantino‘s wildly spiraling Cajun songs. But just like Golden Fest, it’s like being a kid in a candy store here, a great way to discover dozens of new artists. For starters, Mindra Sahadeo played calmly lustrousIndian carnatic music, singing in a sonorous baritone and accompanied by his mom on mridangam, another woman to his right adding vocals. He was a ringer, considering that he was playing harmonium (there were also a couple of others on the bill playing the concertina).

Next, in the northeast corner, the charismatic Alan Morrow entertained the crowd. Is there anything this guy can’t play? Segueing breathlessly between styles, he fired off bits and pieces of songs across pretty much every conceivable genre. About a minute after Dave Brubeck, we got James Brown: “Say it loud, I’m a New Yorker and I’m proud,” Morrow grinned, and the audience agreed. By then he’d already made his way through classical, ragtime, jazz, hints of klezmer and finally the longest number of his set, the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin, which turned out perfect for the accordion – and for a second seemed that he was going to do the whole album version, complete with hazy string-and-poetry interlude.

The highlight of the hour – at least from this perspective – turned out to be Guillermo Vaisman, who played a tantalizingly brief set of chamame tunes. It’s a popular folk style that’s common on the Uruguay-Brazil border, like tango but less classically-tinged, or a more lively counterpart to candombe. And it’s hard to find in New York. Vaisman’s elegance and dynamics throughout a mix of waltzes and more upbeat material put him on the map as someone who would be even more enjoyable to see stretching out with a longer set.

The festival continues for the next two Wednesdays, starting at 6 PM. The July 5 show features, among others, the haunting and amazingly eclectic Melissa Elledge, playful avant garde jazz and Romany accordionist Shoko Nagai, and Jordan Shapiro, better known as the organist in Choban Elektrik, the Balkan Doors. Closing night is Friday, July 21 at 8, hosted by the mesmerizing Rachelle Garniez, featuring Middle Eastern, Brazilian and Colombian music, to name just three styles. And it’s free.      

The Maureen Choi Quartet Bring Their Dynamic Flamenco String Sounds to Queen

Violinist Maureen Choi began her career as a singer; as the story goes, she switched to violin after a brush with death. She lives in Spain now, where she and her quartet play a passionate, dynamic blend of Andalucian, flamenco, Romany and South American sounds. The band’s latest album Ida y Vuelta (Round Trip) is streaming at Spotify; they’ve got a show coming up tomorrow night, July 1 at 8 at Terrazza 7, 40-19 Gleane St. just off Baxter in Elmhurst; cover is $10.  Take the 7 to 82nd St.

Choi plays the album’s Django-influenced opening, title track with a lingering restraint echoed by pianist Daniel Garcia Diego’s elegantly climbing lines until drummer Michael Olivera picks up the pace, and they wind their way up to a big crescendo….then they’re off again,

Bassist Mario Carrillo grounds the neoromantically biting waltz Vals O Vienes with a gritty pulse, Diego glimmering uneasily and then adding a little blues, Choi growing starker and more kinetic as the band takes it deeper into flamenco. The catchy, folk-tinged tango Valentia grows both more lush and propusive as Choi leaps and bounds, with a playful salsa interlude midway through, Choi’s plaintively sailing melody contasts with the low-key but balletesque elegance of Bolero Del Alba. A tightly wound remake of Besame Mucho, Elizabeth eventually diverges into flamenco jazz, Diego gracefully handing off to Choi’s achingly melismatic attack.

Choi’s remake of Mercedes Sosa’s Alfonsina y El Mar is a sweepingly dancing duet with guest bassist Javier Colina. Choi’s steely resonance and Carrillo’s growling, prowling drive pair off in Negra Presuntuosa, a trickily rhythmic Peruvian lando. Pianist Pepe Rivero gives the bolero Dama De Noche and understated bounce while Choi digs in hard, up to a wry trick ending that’s 180 degrees from the rest of the song

The album’s most lighthearted cut is Bilongo, a cha-cha. The quartet reinvent Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol as a martial shuffle and then fllamenco jazz;. They close the album with Gracias A La Vida, the Violeta Parra ballad made famous by Sosa, Choi’s spare, prayerful lead paired with Diego’s delicate, wistful piano. If flamenco fire, south-of-the-border melancholy or Romany rambunctiousness are your thing, you can’t go wrong with this band.

Orkesta Mendoza Bring Their Slinky Cumbias and Noir Desert Rock to Prospect Park

Tucson-based bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Sergio Mendoza leads Orkesta Mendoza, who might be the most epic psychedelic cumbia band on the planet. When they’re firing on all 24 cylinders – the cast of characters varies, but this is a BIG band – they come across as a slinky, brass-spiced mashup of Chicha Libre and Cab Calloway. They’re connoisseurs of noir, and they do a whole bunch of other styles as well: serpentine mambos, haunting boleros, and latin soul among them. Their latest album ¡Vamos A Guarachar! is streaming at Spotify (with a couple of tracks up at Bandcamp). They’re opening what will be a wildly attended twinbill at Prospect Park Bandshell on June 29 at 7:30 PM; populiat Mexican-American songstress Lila Downs headlines at around 9. You’d better get there early.

The album opens with, Cumbia Volcadora, which perfectly capsulizes why this band is so popular. Mendoza’s creepy roller-rink organ flickers and bends and Marco Rosano’s blazing multitracked horn section punches in over Sean Rogers’ fat chicha bassline, Salvador Duran’s irrepressible vocals out in front. Mendoza plays pretty much everything else.

Then the band immediately filps the script with Redoble, an uneasily scampering mashup of Morricone spaghetti western and Ventures spacerock, the band’s not-so-secret weapon, steel guitarist Joe Novelli’s keening lines floating uneasily as the song rises to fever pitch.

Awash in an ocean of strings, Misterio majestically validates its title, Mendoza’s Lynchian guitar glimmering behind Duran’s angst-fueled baritone and the Calexics rhythm section: bassist John Convertino and drummer Joey Burns. Wryly spacy 80s organ contrasts with burning guitars and brass in Mapache, a bouncy chicha tune with a tongue-in-cheek Ventures reference. Duran’s wounded vocals add extra longing to the angst throughout Cumbia Amor De Lejos over a web of accordion, funereal strings and ominous tremolo guitar.

The band switches back and forth between a frantic pulse and lingering noir in Mambo A La Rosano, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Gato Loco songbook. By contrast, the big audience hit Caramelos keeps the red-neon intensity going at full gas; Mendoza sets up a tantalizingly brief guitar solo with a more enigmatic one on organ.Then they follow the clip-clip folk-rock miniature No Volvere (Not Going Back) with the album’s centerpiece, Contra La Marea (Against the Tide), a briskly strutting noir showstopper, Rosano’s brooding baritone sax and clarinet alongside Mendoza’s reverberating guitar layers.

Mutedly twinkling vibraphone – most likely Convertino – infuses the enigmatically lilting Igual Que Ayer (Same as Yesterday). Mendoza’s insistent wah-wah guitar takes centerstage in the trippy, moody Nada Te Debo (I Don’t Owe You Anything) Rogers sings the album’s final cut, the psychedelic latin soul anthem Shadows of the Mind. Best darkly glimmering party album of the year – and maybe the only one. Hopefully they’ll get the chance to stretch some of these out and get really psychedelic at the Brooklyn show.

Paíto y los Gaiteros de Punta Brava Put on a Colombian Beach Party in Their New York Debut

The cumbia party at Lincoln Center last night started at about nine. For the better part of the previous ninety minutes, a vast expanse of bodies had been bouncing and swaying to the thunderous beats of Colombian gaita negra band Paíto y los Gaiteros de Punta Brava, who were making their New York debut. Introducing the group, Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez kept her cool, but she couldn’t hide how psyched she was to have booked them, current political climate be damned. “The music is deep, and goes way back,” she told an energized, sold-out crowd, and then let the music speak for itself.

Bandleader and wood flute player Sixto Delgado a.k.a. Paito hails not from the mainland but from Rosario Island off the coast of Cartagena. He’s one of very few remaining practitioners of gaita negra, a style that originated hundreds of years ago when slaves kidnaped from Africa began playing music with native Colombians. The result turned out to be as rhythmically sophisticated and eclectic as it is otherworldly. And as the group made clear, among the many grooves in their repertoire is the original cumbia. Even though they’re Colombian rather than Peruvian, if there’s ever a third volume of the Roots of Chicha compilation albums (which, if you love cumbia, you have to own), Paito needs to be on it.

It was a beach party night, and if there’s anybody who knows how to do it, it’s this group. The torrents of beats started very direct and matter-of-fact, then grew more complex and dynamic as the night went on, hitting a mighty peak, then down again and finally out with a lickety-split cumbia celebrating Colombian pride. Over the course of the party, the slinky, booming rhythms, played by two men and a woman on standup bass drum, conga and a surprisingly resounding hand drum, blended and alternated elements that can be heard in African Nyabinghi drumming, roots reggae, Cuban son montuno and Puerto Rican salsa, among other flavors.

Likewise, the fervent call-and-response of the vocals echoed African sounds that have spread around the globe, from American gospel and field hollers to the magical, ritualistic Moroccan trance music of Innov Gnawa. On their wood flutes, Paita and his counterpart played emphatic, gritty riffs based on the blues scale, the younger man keeping time all the while with a pair of shakers. The segues were clever, almost imperceptible, as the group would gallop along a triplet groove and then subtly make their way into straight-up 4/4, whether with a proto-reggae bounce, a slithery clave or the irresistible pendulum motion of cumbia.

One especially tasty subtlety turned out to be that the drums were tuned to a fourth interval, which enabled the drummers to interchange riffs with each other as well as with the flutes. By the end of the night, even the oldsters in the back were on their feet. The next dance party/global music event at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just south of 63rd St. is June 22 at 7:30 PM with South African guitarist Derek Gripper, who plays his own intricately virtuosic arrangements of ancient Malian music. 

And Paito and the band play a rare Brooklyn date on June 19 at 9:30 PM at Barbes; cover is $15.