[Note: this post has been edited to strike some unwarranted snark, for which I apologize to Milo Miles.]

A few weeks ago, the excellent music writer Phil Freeman alerted me to some “avant-banda” music at his blog Burning Ambulance. Although Freeman knows and loves Latin genres, Burning Ambulance largely covers jazz and metal, and the banda in question was Banda de los Muertos, a Brooklyn consortium of horn players playing what amounts to an arty chamber homage. (Says Muertos founder Jacob Garchik, “I might play a dance gig with the Banda on a Saturday but the next day play jazz for a cerebral, sit-down audience. I don’t want to do just one or the other!”) The Banda sounds like they’re fun live — by all accounts, Muertos shows are a blast of “hoots and hollers” and dancing. But on their new album Banda de los Muertos (Barbes), their take on the thriving commercial genre of banda resembles Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy remakes of the Notorious B.I.G. and the Spice Girls — both played with gusto on this album — or Brooklyn’s Asphalt Orchestra when they covered Swedish metal band Meshuggah. It’s a step removed. It’s “fun” (or “banging” or “rocking”) with scare quotes.

What it’s NOT is Banda For People Who Don’t Like Banda. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy, as NorteñoBlog has, both the mainstream banda music on commercial radio stations AND Banda de los Muertos’ somewhat jazzed-up take via NPR. Unfortunately, NPR reviewer Milo Miles seems to disagree:

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 [ed: in this segment pronounced “BAYNda DEE 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.

I turn to NPR for many things — detailed news, election coverage, the annual jazz poll for which they mysteriously allow me to vote, journalists trying to maintain straight faces while Republicans say crazy things — but I’ve never met anyone whose go-to source for “unadulterated fun” was NPR. (Maybe they need a new ad campaign.) Fun on NPR always seems thoroughly and explicitly adulterated, even if it’s adulterated by such respectable substances as “brains” and “human decency.” And while Muertos’s leadoff cumbia is, yes, fun, it’s fun in the manner of a killer Pérez Prado track from the ’50s.
Continue reading “Banda de los Muertos Is Cool, But Come On! (or, NPR being NPR)”