SONES DE MEXICO AT GRANT PARK
Sones de Mexico specializes in folk music from various regions of Mexico. The group has a core of about eight musicians. In concert there is always something to admire. Their problem has been that sometimes they bite off more than they can chew although this was certainly not the case with their 20th anniversary concert at the Pritzker Pavilion in Grant Park last Wednesday night.
With a cast of 70 ranging from guest musicians to folkloric dancers I was surprised at how smoothly the event went. There were Irish musicians, blues harmonica, jazz combo, classical brass quintet, former members of the ensemble and dancers changing costumes for almost every tune. But it fit together - which was fortunate because they attracted a crowd of 10,000 and at that level of exposure you need to put on a good show.
There was one standout performance. It was a duel between two of the trumpeters, one classical the other jazz. They traded solos but one started off stage. The off stage trumpeter gradually made his way to the stage where the duet continued. It was charming. Some of the acts were better than others but none were cringe-inducing. This variety show format seems to be a good choice for the group at least this time around. Even when performing as a small group Sones de Mexico has a lot of variety with many of the members playing multiple instruments and singing. The problem is that in the smaller core group it is hard to keep up the energy in what are demanding nonstop sets not to mention having to fight bad acoustics and sound systems when they are doing concerts in less than state-of-the art houses. None of this was an issue at the Pritzker Pavilion performance.
The group has announced plans to start a school of Mexican folk music. They have always had an educational outreach component. The tricky part is how to balance performance with education. So far they have used outside musicians to freshen their folk traditions but what will happen to Sones de Mexico as a performing group? I have watched them expand their scope in their concert performances. If their direction is now education will they be able to evolve and innovate musically or will they fall into a loop of greatest hits for fund raisers? I was under the impression they had a relationship with the Old Town School of Music. Will they become dueling institutions chasing shrinking funding?
For now I'll just celebrate their success.