Sand, water, wind, and birds: our first moments of Raíces Jarochas – “Roots from Veracruz” – an eight-part audio-visual suite by Patricia Brennan, a Mexican-born vibraphonist, marimbist, and composer based in Brooklyn. The second movement goes to space, but even as floating orbs and expanding universe are projected onstage, a wide groove and conga solo root us in hide and hand. From space dust we return to water, seeing and hearing happy burbles. The ground water turns to rain, and for a few moments all is only precipitation and vibraphone. It’s a feeling that we know and love—even when the feeling arrives on a blurred concrete city corner.
Raíces Jarochas is an unhurried love letter to Patricia Brennan’s hometown in Mexico, presented in its premiere on December 26, 2019, at National Sawdust, in the latest installment of John Zorn’s monthly Stone Commissioning Series. The large composition avoids sprawl and abstraction; even its sincerely galactic moments, as when a video of asteroids converges with clanking space-debris percussion, serve to heighten my awareness of the earth. I feel a kinship with a land I have never known.
Brennan and her group, MOCH — which is Nahuatl for “all, everything” — play the suite without pause. Its first six movements relate to poems that are printed with translations in the program. Recordings of the original poems are played or mixed into the suite by Noel Brennan, on turntables, electronics, interactive video, and percussion.
The music is tight but fluid, and moves from earth to sky and back with ease. It’s melodic and oozing within spacious, woven structure. For one brief passage, at the end, Brennan plays unamplified marimba with the most condensed harmony of the evening. It is striking. Otherwise she is melting the vibraphone into Mauricio Herrera’s patient, intricate Afro-Latin rhythms, or returning to an impressive duet with Michael Formanek on upright bass. They offer as virtuosic a scat as you can imagine, in unison, and delightful.
Humans are not the center of the universe in Raíces Jarochas; we are grateful inhabitants. Instruments don’t trouble themselves with imitating the human voice. The music adapts itself into the emotional terrain of the poetry, but the words are no dictators. They could be peripheral interest, archival inspiration, but it is the earth and the body and creatureliness and sleepy belonging that fills the music.
It feels good.
Patricia Brennan and MOCH repeat Raíces Jarochas for the Stone series at happylucky No. 1 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on Jan. 17 at 8pm; happyluckyno1.com
Lana Norris is a music journalist and collaborative pianist with a background in sacred music and religious studies. She brings an interest in diplomacy to her dedication to contemporary concert music.