A World of Difference

The fourth annual Vans Warped skateboarding and rock tour pitches four stages and a half pipe in the United Center parking lot this coming Thursday, giving new meaning to the phrase “more of the same.” While the 33-band lineup features a few acts with broader appeal–nostalgia whores the Specials, No Doubt clones Save Ferris, quasi-swing yobbos the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies–for the most part the festival is still sharply targeted to young white males on wheels, with punk and alt-metal acts like Rancid, Bad Religion, Unsane, and Fu Manchu. That’s why the best band on the bill–Los Angeles’s Ozomatli–stands out like Day-Glo grip tape.

Ozomatli, named for the Aztec god of dance, features ten members of diverse ethnicities playing an amalgam of son, merengue, ranchera, cumbia, flamenco, raga, dub, hip-hop, and funk. It would appear to be just the sort of pointedly eclectic worldbeat mush that usually turns my stomach. But in fact the group’s eponymously titled debut, on Almo Sounds, which brings the achievements of cross-cultural Latino music like Santana, War, and Los Lobos (whose David Hidalgo contributes accordion on a couple of cuts) firmly into the sampling era, is a real groundbreaker.

With the arguable exception of DJ Cut Chemist, Ozomatli has no virtuosos. Bassist Wil-Dog Abers is a sturdy anchor, and guitarist Raul Pacheco and trumpeter Asdru Sierra, both of whom also sing, are probably the strongest instrumental voices, but sometimes even they take a backseat while rapper Chali 2na, also of underground hip-hop heroes the Jurassic 5, drops some science. With a bevy of percussionists, a torrid rhythm section, and daring tunes that suggest Beck for the Latin set, Ozomatli sounds simultaneously like the world’s greatest party band and a genuinely global pomo phenom. Perhaps it’s because all these sounds mingle naturally in the air over the simmering melting pot of postriot LA, but this combo’s boisterous brew never sounds forced or overly clever. And while there’s a leftist edge to the group’s bilingual lyrics, its musical communalism makes a more potent statement than words ever could.

Havana Ball

In addition to the recent influx of Cuban music from Cuba itself–the wave of groups touring the U.S., the release of rarely heard pianist Chucho Valdes’s Bele Bele en la Habana on Blue Note, the Latin label RMM’s archival series–there’s also been an outpouring of cubanismo from musicians stateside, some Latin, like Ozomatli, and some decidedly not, like guitarist Marc Ribot. On his new Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos (Atlantic), the noted former sideman for Elvis Costello and Tom Waits tackles the music of Cuban composer and bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez.

In addition to Costello and Waits, Ribot has been employed by John Zorn, the Jazz Passengers, Wilson Pickett, Richard Buckner, and Marianne Faithfull, among others. Though he’s often lauded for his flexibility, it’s too often a substitute for original ideas–in my opinion, Ribot’s always been a little too eager to deconstruct familiar forms with button-pushing skronk eruptions. But on this album he’s finally found a perfect foil for his exciting, if not exactly innovative, guitar playing.

Rodriguez, who played the tres–a Cuban guitar with three pairs of strings, each tuned to a different note–is revered for introducing larger horn and percussion sections to Cuba’s son tradition in the late 40s. But Ribot presents the music sparely, most often situating his lacerating guitar lines over just the seductive ostinatos of Prime Time bassist Brad Jones and the propulsive percussion of brothers E.J. and Robert J. Rodriguez (no relation to Arsenio). He never merely apes the great composer–at times he sounds like a raunchier Carlos Santana (on Ribot’s own “Postizo”), at others like a jacked-up Grant Green (on Rodriguez’s “Aqui Como Alla,” which features funky organ by John Medeski of Medeski, Martin & Wood)–but he succeeds in conveying the sultry flavor of Rodriguez’s melodies.


Personally I don’t have time to waste on this self-absorbed twit, but in case you do, the Film Center at the School of the Art Institute will screen the documentary Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart on Saturday at 4:30 PM and Sunday at 7:15 PM. This version is 20 minutes longer than the one that aired on PBS recently. Call 312-443-3737 for more info.

Homocore Chicago, the queer- and feminist-punk programmers, have kept a regrettably low profile lately, but they’ll reemerge Saturday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Tea Party, the gathering where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and a handful of friends drafted the Declaration of Sentiments–which among other things demanded that women be allowed to vote–and then organized the first-ever women’s rights convention to ratify it. The festivities start at noon with a free, all-ages beach party at the lake and Bryn Mawr; at 4 PM the 21-and-over contingent moves to a coed “punk rock tea dance” at Big Chicks, 5024 N. Sheridan, with music by the Prescriptions. For more information, visit Homocore’s Web site at www.tezcat.com/-homocore.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Ozomatli photo by Storm Hole.