Lone Piñon’s Noah Martinez (left) and Jordan Wax perpetuate musical tradition, but they’re also keeping it fresh. Photo: Joe Dean
by Luke Henley (Santa Fe Reporter, February 26, 2019)
It's easy to mistake the word "traditional" for "old," but participation in traditions can help to retain vitality within current musical movements. It's the reason roots and folk music still resonate with audiences and musicians alike in the digital age. Time becomes non-linear, if only for a moment, as you're moved by a song that has been passed down through the generations.
This is the intersection of old and new where Lone Piñon sits, where founding members Jordan Wax and Noah Martínez interpret vast repertoires of traditional New Mexican and Mexican styles of music as an intimate acoustic conjunto.
On their new album Dále Vuelo, the group's third to date, Martínez and Wax have continued to augment their traditional string band sound with several guest musicians including longtime collaborator Leticia Gonzales—a multi-instrumentalist also known for her work with Luke Carr's Storming the Beaches With Logos in Hand—on violin. The core duo plays multiple instruments themselves, but the backbone of Lone Piñon's sound consists of Martínez' percussive guitarrón and Wax's agile violin and bright, passionate vocals. The music ranges from Cuban-originated danzón style, which highlights percussion and accordion set to a spirited two-step rhythm, to more New Mexico-specific styles. They learned the track "New Mexico Polka" directly from a woman in her 90s, Antonia Apodaca, whom Wax and Martínez frequently visit and whose repertoire of songs has helped add to their ever-growing bank of tunes and styles.
Much of Lone Piñon's music comes from such sources: living elders and keepers of traditional music who share their stories, food and songs with the group. Wax, originally from Missouri, began learning traditional American folk traditions in this way from his own grandmother and from regional masters of fiddle music before moving to New Mexico. Martínez, at one time more interested in playing punk rock, began spending time with his grandmother's neighbors, who would play traditional Mexican ranchera songs. When the two musicians met, they fed into each other's desire to keep digging into as many styles of music as they could, leading to a take on traditional music that is cross-cultural with uniquely American touches that can be heard in Wax's violin playing, which still carries some of the swing of his Missouri roots. For both of them, the drive to create relationships with older musicians and styles of music is less about academia or history and more about a simple love of the music.
"We're music nerds, foremost," says Martínez.
Wax chimes in: "If you're really into the music and want to play it the best you can, that implies understanding the tradition and integrity of it."
While the duo isn't interested in being archivists, they each voice happiness at being a part of continuing traditions, by reaching out to different communities and musicians, but also combing through bona fide archives of traditional music. They are particularly interested in the massive collection of field recordings by Juan B Rael, an ethnographer and Stanford professor originally from Santa Fe, whose pioneering work of preserving Northern New Mexican culture now resides under the care of the Library of Congress.
Now with the internet, they are in a position to combine both digital and interpersonal resources to not simply recreate older styles of music, but to act as stewards of vital and resonant traditions that crackle with as much energy as they ever had.
"It's not like we're historical re-enactors," Wax says. "People misunderstand culturally the statement of doing [traditional music]. People think you're re-creating a moment in time. It's a radical, futuristic thing to reach back."
Considering the group finds audiences anywhere from the San Miguel Chapel to electronic music festivals (yes, really), he seems to have a point.
"We have the elders who are living," Martínez adds, "and access to the future."
It lends great insight into what makes the group such a refreshing entity in local music. A perfect here-and-now moment with two musicians doing what musicians have always done—listening, interpreting and sharing.