I was assembling my VERANO LISTA DE MÚSICA EN VIVO of Mexican artists to see live this summer by looking a videos, listening to audio files and reading past reviews of live performances I attended the past year and one name keep popping up – Juan Castañón Acasia.
Castañón wasn’t the only artist in Mexico or Mexican artist in LA or other cities I followed closely, but his sheer talent, virtuosity, flexibility, and ability to connect quietly but intimately with an audience struck me. He is unique.
I had seen Castañón play in local venues in Ajijic – mostly jazz but also some rock and covers when the audience wanted them – but I had never seen hm out of the local environment until he invited me to come to the legendary Chango Vudu club in August of 2019. Chango Vudu is literally an underground (like you go down several sets of stairs) jazz club . I had been there a few months earlier to see Paz Court, so I knew about it, but this was the first time I accompanied a band there. What a night!
There was a TV crew, a radio production unit and a radio DJ there broadcasting her show and interviewing Juan. But what was really remarkable was the music. I had never listened to experimental jazz before and Castañón opened up a whole new world to me. He talked to me – and to everyone else in the packed room – with his guitar, his smile, and a few words that we all hung onto. I wrote of the music later that it was like an out of control subway ride at Universal Theme Park (with) smooth round guitar notes that move you along with the wind at your back.
From that magic night in 2019, I went to every Castañón performance I could, from his accompanying LA singing star Nancy Sanchez at the La Huerta, to the Hoping for the Best Tour in Lakeside, to his performances with the Latin Matters Quartet and Jazz Guitars Lakeside, to his gig at one of my favorite spots in Guadalajara, the Centro Cultural Bretón a month ago.
I should say now that when I moved to Mexico I was not a jazz fan – and I knew very little about jazz. I had no idea of its open space in jazz for guitar virtuosity like Castañón’s. He converted me, and showed me how minimalist music that allows a world-class guitar player to fly free and literally mesmerize me to the point that I felt singled out even though I was in a packed room full of other people, who Castañón was also making feel singled out. No wonder he can pack Guadalajara’s and Lakeside best jazz clubs.
So Juan Castañón will take the jazz slot in my VERANO LISTA DE MÚSICA EN VIVO. I am looking at Mary’s Island for the rising pop spot, and Café Tacvba or The Wohl Band for post rock bands, Carla Morrison or Jaramar for best female live performer. I don’t have a band in mind for Mexican rap – the only one I really like is La Sinfonia but I have not seen them live. Renee Goust is my all-time favorite for cumbia, and she went to school at the University of Guadalajara to boot. Tune in next week for the final list, but Juan Castañón will be on top.
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