MACUILXOCHITL: “Five Flower,” the Aztec god of music and dance
By Francisco Ciriza
On May 31st, Mexico’s Jaguares released their first studio album in four years, ‘Crónicas de un Laberinto’ (Sony/BMG). The album was co-produced in Nashville by Saul Hernández, Alfonso André and longtime ally, Adrian Belew who also produced Caifanes’ El Silencio CD (BMG) in 1992. Belew is best known for his impressive guitar playing in the progressive/art rock outfit, King Crimson.
‘Cronicas’ is Jaguares’ follow-up to 2002’s platinum-selling ‘El Primer Instino,’ a live, stripped down acoustic album which now contrasts greatly with the new record’s wall of guitars and full production.
Core members Hernández (vocals/guitar), Alfonso André (drums), and César “Vampiro” López (guitar) are joined by Federico Fong (bass), Leo Muñoz (percussion) and Adrian Belew (guitar). The result is a full-bodied, eclectic mix of Beatlesque psychedelia to Jaguares’ own signature sound taken to an entirely new height. Both Fong and Muñoz play major roles with their stylish yet team oriented playing of essential versus ethereal parts. Meanwhile, ‘Vampiro’ continues to make an argument for himself as one of rock’s most original and progressive lead guitarists. Virtually indispensable, his ambience enhancing chords and slides splash color and carefully stroke shading onto Jaguares’ distinct canvas of sound.
Hernández’s voice carries with it a character and experience unparalleled. Perhaps weathered, but unarguably full of vigor and angst, he has regained the vast majority of his vocal range once lost during his earlier battles with vocal chord complications. “I’ve regained my voice pretty much completely and I feel much more confident and comfortable,” said Hernández speaking exclusively to La Prensa San Diego recently from his home in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Drummer Alfonso André once again outdoes himself, pounding out the energy necessary to drive grooves matching the ensemble of guitars on a handful songs as appropriately as he softly accents and creates a flowing percussive bottom to flourishing guitar pickings and soaring vocals on as many others.
The new album’s title ‘Cronicas de un Laberinto’, according to Hernández, is an analogy for the present state of Mexico, and on a larger scale, all of humanity.
“We are lost,” says Hernández bluntly. “Whether it be economics, politics, or society, this idea of political change in Mexico is not working well. They are still killing the Indians here. The economic situation still primarily only benefits the wealth,” adds Hernández.
As much as Hernández owns his perspectives and analogies, he easily offered a nod to the renowned Mexican author, Octavio Paz. “Yes I do believe there is a connection. The thought that this element or quality of some truth or essential piece that’s inside of us all exists and in reality needs to be nurtured and protected. In many ways it can be looked at as that same Mexican theme Paz explores, but there’s also a universal aspect to it.”
Following the analogy, the music and lyrical content on the album’s fourteen songs take the listener on an adventure through the labyrinth. Leading into the maze, the opening track, “Bruja Canibal,” explodes with a burst of Lennon and Harrison-like guitar flashes while the album’s final tracks, “Ya Te Quemaste” and “Esta Muy Claro” with hope, provide epiphany and the “hopeful exiting of the labyrinth not depending on the government all the time, being responsible for ourselves, making a better country - be it Mexico, the United States, or any place,” offers Hernández in conclusion.
‘Cronicas De Un Laberinto’ embodies an increased emphasis on melody. The three guitar players, Hernández, Lopez, and Belew synchronized their efforts forming a modern wall of guitars sound. “[We] realized the best way to work together was to make an ensemble instead of emphasizing solos. When you hear it, you never know who is playing the guitar lines. It’s one sound,” said Hernández.
The sounds on ‘Crónicas’ illustrate perfectly the irony of which Hernández has become a master. Where melodies have previously gone into darkish minor chords and half steps down, brighter and livelier musical phrases are used, oddly enough to color the morose subject matter that permeates most of the CD’s songs. It’s a tool which has become one of Hernández’s signatures and one worth noticing as a new or casual listener.
Many close to the group have said this is the group’s best album thus far and it’s almost impossible to argue with that assertion. The group continues to grow in complexity and depth both musically and lyrically. Songs like “Madera,” “Todo Queda Igual,” and “Mejor Sera” define Hernández’s assertion of the universality of Mexico’s political, social, and economic ills while they also display some of the finest musicianship and band cohesiveness in modern music.
A special limited edition version of ‘Crónicas de un Laberinto’ also includes 6 classic Jaguares music videos, a special interview, photo gallery, and previously-unreleased tour, recording, and backstage footage from 1996-2004.