UCLA Performing Arts kicked off its season with a south of the border flair focused on newly recorded Mexican works and the first all-female mariachi concert band. The org’s artists in residence, Kronos Quartet, stuck with the festive material found on its new Nonesuch recording “Nuevo,” giving music from film, television and the pop world a level of prestige through these interpretations; they were at their best working with the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble from Mexico City, which added a thrusting integrity to the string quartet’s music.
Tambuco was actually under-utilized — their kettle drums, marimba and other mallet instruments were used only on Silvestre Revueltas’ “Sensemaya” and the encores, Margarita Lecuona’s “Tabu” and Perez Prado’s “Mambo en sax” — though the Kronos members appeared to react with extra enthusiasm and exactness in the collaborative effort. Tambuco gave the music backbone, aiding the festive nature of the tunes that were already plenty perky to start.
Kronos used recordings — street noise, an orchestra, percussion, voices, etc. — throughout perf of 11 pieces from “Nuevo,” all of them short and, for the most part, locked into a single theme.
Agustin Lara’s “Se me Hizo Facil” was particularly peaceful; Chalino Sanchez’s “Nacho Verduzco” found the Kronos playing with an exaggerated hugeness; and “12/12,” a piece Cafe Tacuba wrote for the quartet, made an impressive connection between experimental modern composition and Mexican dance-song tradition.
It was a real kick hearing “Mini Skirt” from the late king of bachelor pad music, Juan Garcia Esquivel, complete with wolf whistles and chants of “groovy.” Based on just this 3-minute excerpt, his underappreciated works seem sturdy enough for further Kronos exploration.
Foreigners though they may be, the Kronos Quartet turned the evening into a travelogue through Mexico, one that was as successful live as it is on record.
The all-female Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles whet the appetite with 45 minutes of upbeat mariachi music. Through medleys and the inclusion of the bluegrass standard “Orange Blossom Special,” the ensemble that included seven violinists, two trumpeters and two guitarists fleshed out the stylistic range of the traditionally males-only music.
Plankton Man, formerly a DJ for the Nortec Collective who remixed “El Sinaloense” on “Nuevo,” opened his laptop onstage and twiddled a few knobs for the first 20 minutes of the concert, demonstrating an affinity for gentle rhythms and sweet melodies. It was boring to watch, though.
Kronos returns to Royce Hall on Feb. 15 for the world premiere of a program titled “Visual Music.”