Lisandro Meza

Lisandro's Cumbia

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Flash quiz: think you could listen to 16 short songs featuring accordion backed by little more than bass and percussion (don't forget the triangle) playing variations on the same simple rhythm without getting bored? Probably not, but Lisandro Meza just may surprise you with Lisandro's Cumbia, compiled from five Colombian LPs released between 1983-1991, by getting an amazing amount of mileage out of a very spare, song-oriented cumbia approach. Meza is a good singer, every song sounds fresh (about half are originals), and it doesn't hurt that the slinky cumbia bassline makes for a pretty irresistible rhythm -- no wonder it snuck up north and became real popular in Mexico. But it's his playing that's really magical -- absolutely fundamental, almost playing countermelodies that, together with his unfortunately uncredited backing band, wind up sketching out the actual main melody.

Unlike other roots accordion heroes like Flaco Jimenez or Clifton Chenier, Meza is the antithesis of the flashy or flamboyant soloist -- it's not about how much he plays, it's where he puts his accordion lines in that counts. Maybe the closest comparison would be Art Neville, whose organ playing with the early Meters darted around to fill in the most unexpected places.

The squeezebox squawks of the opening "Pepe el Sabroso" and very spare comping in the verses lets you know what you're dealing with, while Meza lets loose some really exuberant whoops on "Amor Lindo," too. "Tapiz de Retazos" taps into a moodier side, and "Cumbia P'a Oriente" starts off with near-rock riffing before suddenly jumping registers into the dog-whistle zone (sorta "Hang 'Em High," Colombian-style), a trick Meza springs again to end "Las Africanas" without losing the surprise factor.

Some little surprise like that always pops in to reinvigorate the basic format. It can take the form of prominent backing vocals ("Los Lamentos"), cymbals on the offbeat ("Cumbia de Los Locos"), or a shift to upper-register bass plus acoustic guitar ("Las Cara Lindas"). It might be a guitar-bass melody and spoken story ("Y de Plata Que?"), Meza's most extroverted playing ("Mamando Gallo"), strong playing by the entire group ("Tu Seras Mi Cumbia"), or the instruments changing up and trading off ("Chapeada y Morena"). You really just can't argue with any of the stuff on Lisandro's Cumbia -- it's just good, buoyant music that changes moods and elastically changes shapes within its basic musical context. Simple pleasures, but damn, it works like a charm.

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