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Unadulterated Brass-Band Fun On Banda De Los Muertos' Debut Album


This is FRESH AIR. Music critic Milo Miles has a review of the debut album by Banda De Los Muertos. Milo says this band updates traditional Mexican dance party folk music for modern American listeners.


MILO MILES, BYLINE: Among the liveliest types of modern music are brass bands, veterans and newcomers, who are full of juice and present fresh feeling workouts year after year. A lot of this activity involves reimagining traditional forms. The earliest transformations involved Klezmer, then Balk and Roma groups burst into new vitality. Now, a pair of multi-instrumentalists in Brooklyn, Oscar Noriega and Jacob Garchik have revitalized Banda, a Mexican style Noriega grew up listening to with his immigrant parents and playing in a band with his brothers. Noriega and Garchik call their new group Banda De Los Muertos, and their leadoff original instrumental on the group's debut, "Cumbia De Jacobo," is as much unadulterated fun as any tune this year.


MILES: The Banda mode, itself, began in the '40s as a kind of fusion, mostly combining folk styles like Rancheras and Cumbia as well as other forms. Banda is also a clear cousin of polka. Banda had a surprise revival in the '90s as younger groups became popular with Mexican immigrants in California. Compared to the fleet-footed style of the originators, however, the new Banda was a shade repetitious and hook-crazy. Banda De Los Muertos solve all the problems in that their Banda does not sound antique, even when doing vintage numbers, and avoids top-40 simplicity, even as it makes you dance. Their skill at updating the past is evident on the slow tune highlight of the collection, "Te Quiero Tanto," a bolero written by Noriega's grandmother and given a piquant vocal by Mireya Ramos.


MIREYA RAMOS: (Singing in Spanish).

MILES: Banda De Los Muertos offers even more treats - they cover Marty Robbins's Tex-Mex classic, "El Paso," as an instrumental so you can enjoy its airy beauty without the melodramatic narrative, which has not aged well. Then there's the finale, a traditional Banda number that sounds, for all the world, like a variant on the old Warner Bros. cartoon football chant, "Freddy The Freshman."


MILES: The Banda De Los Muertos album reminds me of the remark by original jazz master, Jelly Roll Morton, that his music had special power because any style of tune could be given a jazz treatment - that's why jazz is rightly considered the quintessential American music invention. Anyone coming here can take the music of their ancestors and infuse it with the verve and freedom of U.S. sounds and make a new citizen of the world. Banda De Los Muertos joins an essential American process.

GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed the debut album by Banda De Los Muertos. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, I'll talk with comic Jim Gaffigan. He's preparing to perform this weekend for over a million people at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, which culminates in the papal parade - the Pope is expected to be in the audience. I'll talk with Gaffigan about how he's preparing, how Catholicism figures into his comedy and his life and about his TV series in which he plays a comic named Jim Gaffigan who, like the real Gaffigan, has five children. I hope you'll join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Milo Miles is Fresh Air's world-music and American-roots music critic. He is a former music editor of The Boston Phoenix.

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