BANDA DE LOS MUERTOS
Brooklyn's Mexican Banda
For the past twenty years, Brooklyn residents Oscar Noriega and Jacob Garchik have kept busy in the jazz and classical world – Oscar is a sax and clarinet player known for his association with Lee Konitz, Paul Motian and Tim Berne; Jacob is an arranger for Kronos Quartet and a freelance trombonist.
A few years back, both Oscar and Jacob came to be obsessed with the brass band music of Sinaloa – the Mexican state now better known for El Chapo than its musical output. Oscar, the son of Mexican immigrants, felt a nostalgic connection to the music of his parents. Jacob, who had no prior knowledge of the music, was fascinated by the intricate arrangements, the dexterity of the brass players and the astounding virtuosity of its sousaphone players.
Realizing that there was no traditional Banda in Brooklyn, they decided to start their own. They wrote new arrangements, Jacob practiced sousaphone and they enlisted some of their musician friends, most of them players familiar to jazz audiences: Chris Speed, Jim Black, Curtis Hasselbring, Brian Drye, Ben Holmes Justin Mullens as well as French Horn player Rachel Drehmann and singer Mireya Ramos, of Mariachi Flor de Toloache fame.
Soon, Banda de Los Muertos was attracting an audience made up of Brass aficionados and Mexican immigrants – as well as kudos from the mother of all Mexican Brass Bands: Banda el Recodo.
In Mexico in general, and in Sinaloa in particular, brass bands (bandas) are part of every public celebration. In the 1940’s, the pioneering Banda El Recodo started mixing up traditional brass band tunes with contemporary Mexican music – mostly ranchera – and soon transformed the idiom into a powerful new popular genre. In the 1990’s, banda music experienced a renewal, especially among Mexican immigrants living in California, many of whom have family roots in Sinaloa. Banda music’s popularity exploded in Mexico as well.
Despite its popularity, Banda music remained (and remains) confined to the poorer neighborhoods of urban Mexico. It has gained little respect among “serious” musicians or established critics. That a band made of mostly conservatory trained musicians – such as Banda de Los Muertos – should play this music, was both surprising and inspiring to Banda fans in Mexico and the US.
Banda de Los Muertos’ debut album, due out in the fall of 2015, is a tribute to the early years of the genre, but also a re-interpretation of the Banda tradition. The band stresses the subtleties of the original music over the more hook-driven new hits that hold favor on contemporary Mexican radio stations. Jacob and Oscar’s original arrangements have a big band flavor that relies on the precise ensemble playing – but without ever giving in to the temptation of esoteric jazz improvisation. Banda de Los Muertos plays popular music – the kind of music you’re supposed to get married and break up to.
Banda de Los Muertos is based in NYC.
Ten people on stage.