There were some ecstatic moments in Ampersan’s New York debut at Lincoln Center last night, part of the ongoing Celebrate Mexico Now festival. The high point might have been where the punteador and jarana of the five-piece Mexico City band’s founders Kevin Garcia and frontwoman Zindu Cano intertwined with a rippling, slinky intensity. But more often than not, throughout their roughly hourlong set, the music was simply something to get lost in, reflecting the band’s long background scoring for film.
Ampersan make hypnotic, psychedelic sounds with instruments typically associated with far more boisterous styles. The show came together slowly. Was this going to be just another evening of vampy trip-hop-influenced tropicalia with the occasional psychedelic flourish? The lilting, harmony-infused opening number and the stately candombe ballad afterward suggested that, bassist Sergio Medrano’s terse pulse in tandem with cajon player Héctor Aguilar Chaire and his fellow percussionist Nirl Cano.
Then the group took a detour into reggaeton and Cano switched to violin, raising the energy with his stark, rustic resonance. Garcia played mostly electric guitar and the small, uke-like punteador. Rocking a slinky, gothic black dress, the group’s lead singer began the set on jarana and then switched to guitar; she also had a couple of mics set up for her vocals, one which she ran through a mixer for subtle atmospheric effects.
Then Garcia went up to the board, twiddled with it as it hiccupped and burped…and just when it seemed that the electronics were about to clear the room, they simmered down and the group followed with what could have been the best song of the night, a lush, dreamy, slowly crescendoing tropical psychedelic anthem. The quintet would make their way through more of these while animated videos of Adriana Ronquillo and Mónica González’s mystical deep-forest narratives and imagery played on the screen above the stage.
Likewise, the band’s Spanish-language lyrics have a mysterious, allusive quality: themes of escape, and unease, and occasional heartbreak floated to the surface over the music’s graceful pulse. They like to use poetry from across the ages and hit another peak when they brought up son jarocho champion and poet Zenen Zeferino to deliver a defiant, characteristically eloquent freestyle. As they romped their way through some snazzy Veracruz party polyrhythms, he alluded to how Mexico is just as much or even more of a melting pot than the United States. The implication was that this intelligence ought to trump the demagoguery seeping from the bowels of the White House.
The group brought the show full circle at the end, Zula’s voice receding from a fullscale wail to a tender balminess. The concluding concert of this year’s Celebrate Mexico Now festival is a free show this Sunday, Oct 22 at 3 PM at the Queens Museum in Crotona Park with cinematic music by violinist Carlo Nicolau along with post-industrial projections by video artist Vanessa Garcia Lembo. And the next show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway north of 62nd St. is tonight, Oct 20 at 7:30 with oldschool salsa dura band Avenida B.