For the past few months, strains of Latin music have wafted over Main Street on any given Thursday night, courtesy of the Buenaventura Social Club. Though the name serves as an obvious tip of the hat to Ry Cooder’s illustrious Buena Vista Social Club, it is also perfectly fitting for this particular gathering of seasoned musicians. At the core of the group are Xocoyotzin Moraza (Veracruz harp, requinto jarocho, vocals), Joe Baugh (guitar) and Andrew Flores (upright bass). And their combined magnetic field regularly draws in world-class players such as percussionist Lenny Castro (Fleetwood Mac, Adele, the Rolling Stones) and drummers Mario Calire (Ozomatli, The Wallflowers, Liz Phair) and Craig Macintyre (Colbie Caillat, Seal, Josh Groban), among others. When they all come together at Watermark’s W20 Lounge on Thursday evenings, magic happens.
Baugh explains that it was all sort of a happy accident: “Xoc got a call from Mark Hartley (owner of Watermark) to do two weeks at Watermark of whatever he wanted to do musically. Xoc called me and Lenny Castro, and I tracked down Melvin Brannon to play bass. No rehearsal — just showing up with open ears. Mark coined the name to create an event at Watermark on Thursdays when he decided to make the gig a proper residency.”
After those first two weeks, Hartley — a music industry veteran — must have known he had something special on his hands. The evidence of the musicians’ greatness is right there in the interplay. Each one hangs back when appropriate, and each one steps out when it’s time. How does that feel as a player? It “makes playing music very enjoyable, and a lot easier,” says Moraza. “It’s a matter of having a conversation without words. It’s not a competition. It’s a musical conversation and a show.”
“That is the best feeling,” says Baugh. “To truly converse musically during a song whose outcome is not predetermined is one of the best parts of a gig!”
An 80/20 ratio of traditional songs and original combinations, the Buenaventura Social Club’s set list draws heavily from the sones jarochos of Veracuz, Mexico, but adds a modern, Ventura twist. Moraza’s harp and requinto not only root the music in its heritage, they also add an exquisite texture not likely familiar to most American ears. Beyond that, though, Baugh explains, “Traditional son jarocho doesn’t have electric guitar, upright bass or drums. By changing the instrumentation, we are able to follow Xoc and create a new spin on an old form of folk music. The other 20 percent of our music is original instrumental music that has mostly been written on this residency.”
Most bands rehearse — a lot — to develop the sort of cohesive sound, tangible chemistry and smooth arrangements that Buenaventura Social Club enjoys. Not the BSC. Hearing them weave a seamless musical tapestry, you would never guess that, according to Baugh, “This band was created on the bandstand, and we don’t rehearse.” Ironically, that lack of preparation is a major contributing factor to why it works so well. They don’t — can’t, really — take the music or each other for granted. There’s no phoning it in or merely going through the motions when you are playing improv-style.
“I feel we are more open than a traditional band in that we listen and react differently from gig to gig, even on the same song,” says Baugh. Moraza adds, “That is a blessing, and it’s an honor to play with such talented musicians. Everyone has their own thing going on, but it all manages to work out musically.”
While Moraza cites among his influences “the musicians I’ve listened to all my life, such as Lino Chavez, Andres Huesca, Mario Barradas and Fallo Rosas,” how does a pop guitarist rise to this Latin challenge? “I draw stylistically from Cuban and African rhythms for my accompaniment,” Baugh notes. “And my regular inspirations — such as Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot — for lead playing, along with whatever is happening in the moment, of course.”
Buenaventura Social Club plays Watermark’s W20 Lounge every Thursday, 7 – 10 p.m.