David Wax Museum brings Mexican masters' lessons to Wiltern
David Wax, of the indie-folk-American band David Wax Museum -- which performs at the Wiltern Wednesday night with the Old '97s and Josh Ritter -- finished up his undergraduate career at Harvard University several years ago. But his quest for musical knowledge from both the U.S. and Mexico seems limitless.
A composer, guitarist and jazz pianist, with an obviously deep mental storehouse of native U.S. musical forms from bluegrass to rock, Wax also is a student of Mexican regional music. During and after his Ivy League years, he spent several months in rural Mexico, mastering three of that country's most venerable and challenging folk strains -- son jarocho, son huasteco and son calentano -- as well as instruments like the jarana, an eight-string guitar.
"They’re instruments that you could devote a lifetime of study to," he said in an interview, "but I reached a level of competency with them where I felt comfortable playing the music and felt I could play with other musicians."
Many of those rhythms and instrumental arrangements eventually made their way into David Wax Museum's aptly titled bilingual second album, "Everything Is Saved."
Wax isn't the only young American who's lately been crossing the border to study Mexican regional folk music, particularly son jarocho, an Afro-Caribbean varietal from the southeastern state of Veracruz that usually sounds even earthier and more intense than the Ritchie Valens hit "La Bamba," the famous pop version of a jarocho standard.
"There’s a lot of interest in it," Wax said of son jarocho. "There seems like a real infusion of young, hip people in the same way we’ve seen young hip people re-informing some kinds of folk music in the United States." Another son jarocho fan is Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine.
A few years ago, the Los Angeles Times paid a visit to another Mexican regional legend, the calentano master fiddler Don Juan Reynoso. The late Don Juan had a way of attacking his instrument that was described by one of his U.S. apprentices as "like a hyena ripping into a lioness."
If you've seen Wax perform, you know that description could apply to him as well. Get ready to watch the flur fly Wednesday at the Wiltern. For more about David Wax Museum, read here.
-- Reed Johnson
Photos: Top, David Wax, right, and Suz Slezak of David Wax Museum. Credit: Erik Jacobs/Anthem Multimedia. Bottom, the late Don Juan Reynoso, performing with friends in Mexico in 2005. Credit: Chris Vail / For The TImes