Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
February 2017 By Tim Leffel

In this issue: An intricate mash-up from the Rio Grande to all points south, a solid collection of jazz from Brazil, and a uniquely American band mixing vaudeville, rock, and marching bands.

¡Vamos A Guarachar!

¡Vamos A Guarachar!
Orkesta Mendoza

The ¡Vamos A Guarachar! party kicks off with an overture of sorts, “Cumbia Vulcadoro.” It’s got a mechanized cumbia beat, blaring trumpets, a few organ riffs, and two sets of vocals (one lead, one chorus with the reverb turned to 10). The next track is even harder to pin down musically, but it sure is a lot of fun. Then we get to the melodramatic “Misterio,” with its dueling strings, cymbal crashes, heavy reverb, and a lap steel guitar thrown in for good measure.

In the vein of fun border-crossing mash-ups like Nortec Collective and Mexican Institute of Sound, this album will probably make you smile involuntarily when you listen to it. It feels much more thought-out and crafted than either of those groups though, while still maintaining the core sense of fun. Like a mythical restaurant that serves “Latino Food,” this latest album from Tuscon-based producer Sergio Mendoza isn’t afraid to put tacos, arepas, tostones, and choribons on the same plate.

This probably shouldn’t be a surprise based on his background of living in both the Nogales of the USA and Nogales of Mexico, working over the years on tracks for Tuscon’s hometown heros Giant Sand and Calixio. Mendoza takes on the “Orkestra” part with gusto, creating layers of sound that reward the listener with new discoveries on different sound systems or headphones. A clarinet here, a trumpet with a mute there, cheesy 60s rock synthesizers tossed in just when you think you’ve got a song’s trajectory figured out. A loaded percussion rack and a few guest vocalists (like Salvador Duran) keep the party interesting.

Some tracks like jfjf are made for dancing, but Mambo a la Rosano change tempos too often and are best for stationary listening. “Contra la Marea” is a cinematic journey with a driving piano, bass, and drum beat under vocals, clarinets, and more combining in a wall of sound.

Rough Guide to Brazilian Jazz
Various Artists

What’s the best country in the world for music? Many would put Brazil in the top five at least. There are few kinds of music their citizens can’t do well and they’ve developed a whole array of distinctive styles. Apparently they’ve got some smoking bands in the jazz clubs if this compilation is any indication.

Rough Guides was a powerhouse on the world music scene, left it for a while, then came back and doubled down. They’ve overtaken Putuyamo as the leading packager of compilations from around the world and most of the time they’re on the mark. This Rough Guide to Brazilian Jazz collection is a real delight, filled with numbers that sway too and fro on styles, but sound cohesive thanks to the Portuguese vocals and a native sense of swing.

It’s easier to pick the duds than the standouts and that’s mainly going to come down to personal taste. I won’t be keeping cacophonous “Abdu” from Space Charanga on my Spotify list and I’d place a bet that it’s the most-skipped track on the collection. (Though it would be handy for getting people to leave your party and go home.)

The styles here do run the gamut though, from heavy beat jazzy R&B by Tissai Reis to Coltrane-era hard bop on “Gingerbread Boy” by Victor Assis Brazil. “Um Samba Para John Coltrane” wouldn’t be out of place at at Carnival parade. “Gafieira” by the Dom Salvador Sextet is the most straight-ahead jazz track included. There’s an underlying funkiness to it all though, making the collection sound distictly different from any jazz compilation out of New York or Europe. Apparently there’s something in the cacacha.

Magic Number

This band was formed in Portland and takes lots of inspiration from New Orleans, but was made possible by a very American institution: the football field marching band.

I’ve seen MarchFourth twice and turned many people onto their highly entertaining shows. The percussion is supplied by people playing marching band drums and stage costumes often employ the kinds of ostentatious jackets, hats, or striped pants you would see on the field at halftime. Toss in some burlesque style dancers and stilt walkers and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth from this busload of a band.

So how well does this raucous party translate to the studio? Apparently it’s a challenge, because it has been five years between the debut album and the new one. Some of these songs I heard many years ago live, so they’ve certainly had plenty of time to perfect them. Only a few are “songs” in the traditional sense of the word, with a singer going through verses and a chorus. It kicks off with instrumental tracks “Call to Action” and “The Quarter,” then reverb-soaked vocals enter the picture on title track “Magic Number.”

After that things alternate between fun and funky instrumental jams and tracks where singers pop in, sometimes with minimal lyrics worthy of a Sly and the Family Stone song, especially on “Push it Back” and “Hot Stepper.” The philosophy seems to be “Put the groove first.”  

It’s hard to ever get bored with this collection as it’s full of surprises. An electric bass gives way to a tuba, solos alternate between a trombone, a baritone sax, a tenor sax, and an electric guitar. As with any good marching band, the horn section is ready to blast out a wall of sound when needed.

When older listeners like me start to feel like it’s all been done already, it’s refreshing to hear a joyous band like this that doesn’t sound like anyone else.

Editor Tim Leffel is a former RCA Records marketing exec who ditched the office two decades ago to go traveling around the world. He took the reins on this last batch of music reviews before we say goodbye to a medium people are mostly renting now, not buying. Keep exploring new world music from whatever place you get your tunes and support the acts live—that’s how they’re making a living!

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Rough Guide Music

Buy Rough Guide to Brazilian Jazz online here:
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Magic Numbers

Buy Magic Numbers online here:
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Amazon Canada
Amazon UK