The Mexico City Experiment
This is Ropeadope’s sixth installment of their acclaimed Experiment series. The Mexico City Experiment follows in the tradition of the 2001 The Philadelphia Experiment, the 2003 The Detroit Experiment, the 2007 The Harlem Experiment, the 2022 The Chicago Experiment, and with new momentum for these projects, arrives on the heels of the 2023 The Chicago Experiment Revisited. Even with the fifteen-year gap between 2007 and 2022, these releases remain unique landmarks of sorts and are widely discussed. The underlying concept of these projects is to represent the culture of a specific city. Thus, these sessions, organized by one band leader and not a producer or outside forces, bring together the city’s contemporary musicians to forge a language, artist-controlled improvisation in the studio with jazz and other influences, that’s specific to their city, thus giving each album its own personality. The Philadelphia Experiment brough together jazz artists Christian McBride and Uri Caine with hip-hop icon and producer Questlove. The Harlem Experiment featured a diverse group of jazz, funk, Latin Jazz, and blues artists such as Taj Mahal and Queen Esther. In short, these are intended to be cross cultural in nature. So, Ropeadope continues this legacy with The Mexico City Experiment on their SUR imprint, which is run by guitarist and bandleader Todd Clouser, who organized these sessions.
Today Mexico City is the cultural hub of the country’s art scene in terms of not only music but film, art, and literature. It’s become a magnet for Clouser and some of his collaborators in this project. To understand this concept, it’s only right to provide some brief background on the participants. (This is not Chicago, where stateside readers were likely familiar with Makaya McCraven, Joel Ross, Marquis Hill, and others).
Guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Todd Clouser is Kansas born and Minneapolis grown, having moved to Mexico City in 2011 after meeting drummer/producer Hernan Hecht and bassist Aaron Cruz. After stints in Boston, Colorado, Minneapolis, US van tours, and records crossing genres, labels, and success, Clouser saw the opportunity to have a real, democratic band, and jumped at it, moving into a small apartment in the Mexico City neighborhood of Portales to be close to Cruz and Hecht where they have a popular vocal fronted rock ensemble called A Love Electric that still embraces the spirt of jazz and the inclusion of several cultures in their music.
The project is co-produced by Jeronimo Gonzalez (Last Jeronimo) who originally hails from Xalapa and plays bass, and jarana. Venezuelan drummer Orestes Gomez is renowned for his fusion of Afro-Latin rhythm and influences with jazz and hip-hop. Readers of these pages may be more familiar with versatile keyboardist Erik Deutsch as we covered his 2022 La Nuit Blanche (Ropeadope) on these pages. Deutsch has performed and recorded with pop/rock/country and jazz artists like Norah Jones, Rosanne Cash, Citizen Cope, Charlie Hunter, Leftover Salmon, Shooter Jennings, Shelby Lynne, and many others you would expect a genre-less sound. Jazz enthusiasts recall Deutsch’s work on Nel Cline’s remarkable Lovers and in Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra. Mexican composer and free jazz saxophonist German Bringas who also plays min-trumpet and hand drum, is directly influenced by Carlos Castaneda and then John Zorn and Fred Frith. He has his own label, Jazzorca Records and a venue of the same time, thus a driving force for jazz in the city. Spoken word comes from poet Guadalupe Galvan, the author of several poetry collections, contributor to several Mexican anthologies and various magazines.
The ten tracks run generally in the four-five-minute range, unlike the extended jams heard on The Chicago Experiment Revisited. It’s a dense, vivacious urban soundtrack, reflective of the world’s third largest city with a population of 22 million (by comparison NYC is a bit less than 19 million). Voices, electric guitars and keys dart in and out while drummer Gomez mixes his hip hop and Afro-Latin beats frenetically on the opening “Bored People” with Deutsch stating the melodic refrain at various points. Gonzalez’s throbbing electric bass introduces us to the vibrant “De Buche” as Clouser and Deutsch bend, and twist notes, using wah-wah and echo effects. Meanwhile the bass-drum tandem works a maelstrom. Galvan recites in Spanish over the thick, percolating danceable beats of “I Feel Love.” Saxophonist Bringas uses his mini trumpet to support Clouser’s spoken words in the brief “Interludio” while the effervescent, keyboard imbued “Jarocho Street” is presumably and ode to the Coyoacan neighborhood, a vital cultural and cuisine center, famous for coffee and tacos, among other delectables.
“Kooks Mix” is a series of conversations/raps over dizzying, deafening soundscape of bass, horns, and hip-hop beats placing, you right on the city streets amidst blaring car horns and metallic echoes. “Optimist” sustains this churning momentum with Clouser and Deutsch striking some fascinating chords over Gomez’s driving percussion. Like most here, this is head spinning, blurring electronics in all its glory. Inventive guitar and for one of the few times, distinctly Mexican sounding keys color the mid-tempo, more laid back “Poza Rica,” named for a city in the Veracruz, translated to “rich pool,” the original reference was an abundance of fish but today likely means oil as the city is a major industrial center. “Swan Song” uses reverb to great effect as a simple melody emerges through the blend of saxophone, guitar, and keys that is inexplicably both haunting and beautiful at the same time. The pulsating “Talking Mexico City” closes, with voices of a tourist awed by his surroundings, over the vibrant soundscape.
Never having been to Mexico City this writer defers to Ropeadope label head Louis Marks who said this – “the music jumped right out and grabbed me. I cannot imagine a more profound result. It was as if I was there on the street in MXC.” Be transported. It’s unlike anything you have likely heard.
- Jim Hynes
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