In the mid 90s Nine Rain was founded by Steven Brown in Mexico City, but long before, between 1977 and 1985, this keyboard-player and saxophonist from San Francisco enjoyed cult-status in the USA and Europe with the group Tuxedomoon. At that time the progressive quartet moved with its own sense of identity and style between punk and artistry, electronics and world jazz. After the dissolution of Tuxedomoon, Steven Brown moved to Mexico, to immerse himself in its culture and everyday life. His reputation as an avant-garde pop-pioneer has been reinforced by his playing in Nine Rain. Together with the German electronics´ specialist Nikolas Klau and the Mexicans José Manuel Aguilera and Alejandro Herrera, he has been tracing relationships between Latin American grooves and European jazz, underground rock and imaginary film-music.
´In Mexico there´s life; there´s a lot of soul here, something that one doesn´t find in the USA and that´s in danger of dying out in Europe,´ says Steven Brown on being questioned about the attraction of central America. This well travelled cosmopolitan recalls in an interview with ´The News´ from Mexico City: ´I always wanted to escape from the American way of life, so I first went to Europe. But even there, the worst things were taken over from America. In Mexico on the other hand I noticed something unique, a special energy, particularly outside the capital, safeguarding many elements of traditional culture, to stop them being destroyed ´
No wonder that Brown soon said ´adios´ to the teeming capital and moved to Oaxaca. The more human dimensions of this capital of the synonymous province - with its low, colourful houses, narrow cobbled lanes and colonial churches - is not only attractive to the eye but also has a unique and almost magical aura. Its down-to-earth pulsating life breathes a sovereign detachment and seems to be permeated by the Indians´ deep spirituality, which had earlier fascinated Carlos Castaneda.
In the mid 90s, Steven Brown was soon an active member of Mexico City´s bohemia. He took part in drama- and film-projects and in anti-AIDS and pro-democracy movements. Then he met Alejandro Herrera, who was one of the first people to run a radio station with and for Indians and who played not only the blues´ harp but also the brightly toned son-guitar and the calimba. The solo guitarist and second singer José Manuel Aguilera comes likewise from the metropolis. The two of them brought new influences, partly in the form of regional traditions, into Brown´s musical cosmos. ´But our way of playing and developing songs has not changed since Tuxedomoon,´ said Brown in 1996 on the occasion of Nine Rain´s debut album. ´It´s still based on improvisation and sessions from which we later choose and develop melodies, bass-lines or loops. The idea behind it is that we play ourselves into a trance, to reach that other world hidden within all of us.´
For the second album ´Rain of Fire´; which appeared at the end of last year, the quartet went further. In Havana they looked for musicians whose ideas they shared, not to save Cuba´s traditions and legends from oblivion but rather to develop new facets in the old spirit of crossover. As expected, the meeting of apparent opposites kindled ideas. Underground intellectuals´ curiosity joined with Caribbean joie de vivre to form an original musical utopia without nostalgia or showy exoticism.
The pieces in ´Rain of Fire´ wander cheerfully through styles and periods, driven by great emotions, experimentation and a feeling for nuances. Many titles sound like soundtracks for future Tex-Mex Westerns in suggesting unholy tension or veiled melancholy. Others set the everyday madness of Mexico City to music. In ´Venus Rising´, Brown gets worked up and invites his hearers into the city ´where the world tends to crash, where the banks take your cash and the robbers the rest. Come to Mexico and see the world upside down´.
Most texts and sounds are laced with an almost British irony with which the quartet satirises and sharpens its own drama. Each of the arrangements, sometimes transparent, sometimes dense, reveals new facets. Psychedelic rock or fragile classical guitar-music determines the basic style, and Afro-Cuban percussion or programmed beats mark the grooves. Seamlessly Brown´s sometimes freely improvised and sometimes intimate solos on the saxophone or clarinet are woven in. His sensitive melodies and eruptions on the horns are sometimes further weighted by bitter E-guitar phrases from Aguileria. Luckily the band captured the enthusiasm of recording sessions in the earthy mix and also did the editing so skilfully that the explosive solos did not degenerate into ends in themselves. Modernism is to be heard in the background throughout the pieces in the form of electronic effects, hovering sounds and thudding base-lines. At times, in virtual duels with rough caesurae from the guitar, they vie for attention.
As a singer Brown flirts cheerfully with underdog stereotypes, only to break with them through exaggeration. In the album´s satirical title-song he desperately laments about sharks in heaven and the sins of cloud-cuckoo land. In ´Lawnmoaner´ he cites, to funk-guitars and wide-screen phrases on the brass, the philosophies of the Zapatistas. The epic ´Why 2K´ on the other hand leads him into phrasing like David Bowie. Aguilera´s voice finds a middle way between central American rock and flamenco expressiveness.
It speaks for the all the participants´ years of experience that their multi-layered musical visions do not become a pot-pourri. Their eclecticism seems elegant and, in the best sense, timeless with its manifold wit and charisma.
Que Viva México!
A soundtrack for the film by Sergei Eisenstein. Independent Recordings
NINE RAIN VI
Mexico Woke Up
Rain of Fire
Traumton Records: 2001
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
The Mexico-festival in Berlin
(15 September 02 - 01 December 02)