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Aztex gives traditional genres of Latin music a new accent. 

Lone Star Songs

Joel Guzman and Sara Fox formed Aztex three or four years ago with the goal of making a musical point. When Guzman heard the Latin-flavored music that existed at the time, he heard more than the swing of salsa or the pop sensibilities of Tejano. He wanted to give the music a different slant.

"I was trying to create a feeling, meaning we'll play music that's indigenous to my bloodline, but that will [also] have some Texas in there," Guzman explains, talking by phone from his Lone Star state home in Buda. "All the really cool and deep, deep [Latin] styles."

If the band's first nationally distributed CD "Short Stories" is an apt indication, Aztex has indeed jumped head-first into multicultural waters. Full of Guzman's rapid-fire accordion, Fox's Latin-flavored, R & B-based vocals, and jazz grooves drenched in Caribbean and Mexican percussion, the CD creates a moving sound that grabs a listener's ear with its big rhythms. The six-piece group brings its bilingual, continually evolving sound to the Virginia Museum's Jumpin' on Thursday, July 13, when the band heads north for its first-ever tour east of the Mississippi River.

Guzman has been a professional musician since he was 7 years old and a member of a family band. Because of his accordion talents, he earned the nickname "El Pequeno Gigante" or "The Little Giant." He eventually wound up in Texas playing with one of the top Tex-Mex bands of the '70s, Little Joe, Johnny y La Familia. His future wife, Fox, occasionally sang with the band. The two met in a recording studio, eventually married and formed a musical team. Through 16 years of marriage, they've performed in many musical styles, including pop, salsa and gospel.

But Guzman still needed his own musical outlet. He had long ago grown weary of the one-trick-pony stylistic approach and wanted a flexible vehicle to explore many musical avenues. Homing in on the commercial approach of Tejano music didn't appeal to him, and the raw, blues conjunto style was too limiting. Aztex's music has an "alternative flair," Guzman offers, and he dubs the band's jazz, rock and Caribbean sound-blend as "Latinoamericano."

Guzman admits that in the early days the group sounded like other bands already on the scene, so they changed the instrumental lineup. Guzman says he didn't want to "be in the shadows" of established groups such as the Texas Tornadoes or The Iguanas. The group took its jazzy blend to the 1998 South-By-Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, and through contacts made there, they eventually became involved with the Grammy Award-winning "Los Super Seven" recording. The project explored the Mexican folk tradition and involved Joe Ely, Freddy Fender, members of Los Lobos and others. Through this recording project, they met Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, and Berlin eventually produced Aztex's first CD. Guzman and Fox both give Berlin credit for helping to further shape the band's hybrid sound.

As he closes the conversation, Guzman says the band is made up of a seasoned bunch of "road dogs" that come to a stage to deliver the goods. He hopes the often-reserved Jumpin' crowd is ready.

"We rock 'em young and old and in-between," he says with friendly conviction. "It's just like getting into a boxing match [and] we don't pull any punches."



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