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.