Many of us travel to sample the rich cuisine of an area or a celebrated chef. We travel for art we admire. We travel for adventure. Lately, I travel for music! The wonderful array of accomplished musicians in the Puerto Vallarta area has created an addiction to hearing live performances that I just can’t shake.
Last week I heard that one of my favorite groups out of Leon, Guanajuato, the jazz manouche ensemble Gato Negro, would be playing at a renowned venue in Mexico City. One of the most classic jazz clubs in the city, the New Orleans Jazz Club located in the fashionable San Angel district is known as the Cathedral of Jazz and dates back to 1972. I could not resist the experience.
I was pleased to learn that Gato Negro’s performance that evening would feature two impressive projects: the poetic, musically breathtaking production Ciudad de Arcilla, subject of the group’s most recent and entirely original CD, featuring the poetry of Deniss Guerra; and their new, equally impressive D’Jango Post Mortem in which they beautifully execute the music of one of the biggest influences on jazz and guitar music the world has known, Django Reinhardt. The program was a full two hours of spectacular performances. Osmar Esquivel shared his skills on violin, accordion, guitar and piano and as a special treat, clarinet. Alfonso Jiménez on banjo and guitar, Jac Hechem on guitar and Victor Quijas on double bass brought together all the elements of the fabulous repertoire of Django and the Quintette du Hot Club de France of the 30s and 40s.
Since the program would take place in San Angel, I chose to stay in nearby Coyoacán, a beautiful neighborhood that maintains the feeling of the small town where famous painter Frida Kahlo grew up and lived with her husband Diego Rivera until her early passing in 1954. My sweet boutique hotel was just blocks from the main plaza, the colorful market, and a busy little triangle where Cafe Jarocho offers the best of coffees from Veracruz.
I was told that Coyoacán, bohemian in spirit, is a great place to hear music, favoring both troubadour and jarocho, the music from Veracruz. I was pleased to happen to sit next to a group of musicians one evening as they enjoyed their friends and shared their music at a local cafe in the plaza. They played and sang and were joined by others on guitar and flute. I understand this is not an uncommon experience as locals gather on the plaza to socialize most evenings.
From Mexico City I caught a comfortable bus to San Miguel de Allende to join my friends of the super popular Gypsy Rumba group Media Luna. They have been summering in the capital and also playing frequently in San Miguel.
Saturday night’s performance at Centanni, a popular Italian restaurant near San Miguel’s main plaza was great. An enthusiastic group of fans danced to Caleb, Jaír and Gibran’s fabulous guitars and at times sang along with bassist and vocalist, Luis Badillo and the rest of the group as they shared such upbeat pieces as Colombian favorite, Que Bonita es Esta Vida.
Sunday’s program was held at Paprika Restaurant where the young men presented their complete show with the full band including percussionist Andres Perales of San Miguel and special guest, accomplished violinist David Mendoza. The lovely voice of a friend, Gaby, who joined them at the last minute to sing marvelous renditions of La Llorona and Besame Mucho was a real hit, and David on violin added a whole new element to the music that was enjoyed by all, including the other musicians. Luckily we had a sunny day for the event and everyone was extremely satisfied.
Saturday night, while walking back from Media Luna’s performance, I was lured into a courtyard where they were holding a blues festival. The vocalist from Mexico City was belting out some of the best blues I have heard, as was the fellow playing a super hot harmonica! Sunday morning in the plaza, an elegantly dressed mariachi group played as selected young performers from the community joined them on vocals. Music abounds in San Miguel!
While it is always a pleasure to visit new places to hear music, we look forward to the Fall when Media Luna returns to Puerto Vallarta with the product of their creative and inspirational summer and hope for some visits from Gato Negro as well. From what I hear, we are in for some real treats!